Teaching writing can be complicated but I think the idea of student writing conferences is even more so. Guest Whitney from Learning with Crayons will show us just how we can take away the overwhelm and get started.
Weekly Writing Process
Whitney teaches a first and second grade combo class. Her writing process has students completing a piece of writing each week, or every 5 days.
Students first begin writing by creating a plan for their writing. Next, they will begin rough drafts. During the rough drafts Whitney works to make sure she is meeting with every student. While she understands this can be very challenging (herself included), the benefits far outweigh the challenge.
The Importance of Reading Rough Drafts
Whitney begins the student writing conference with students reading her their work. This accomplishes two things.
First, she can begin to understand their thought process and what they think they are saying in their writing. This is especially important when we are having difficulty reading what a student has written.
Second, when a student is reading back their writing as a teacher we can immediately correct and support their needs. Completing this work can help students learn punctuation and spelling.
Finding a Focus for Student Writing Conferences
When holding writing conferences Whitney is not hyper focused on having a set plan with students or individual writing goals. Instead, she works on tying what her first and second graders are writing into what they are learning.
For example, if working with apostrophes in centers for the week Whitney will look to see if students are applying those skills in their writing. Whitney feels students learning shouldn’t be isolated but they should be applying what they are learning throughout the day.
The Biggest Goal for Student Writers in Primary
Students (and even adults) often struggle with getting their thoughts down on paper.
Being able to have her students get their thoughts down on paper and then have those thoughts make sense is the biggest goal she has set for writing. She wants her students to think about how their writing is making sense to their readers.
Student Reading Partners
During the first half of the year Whitney is holding one-on-one student writing conferences. As the weeks progress Whitney is training her students for the process of how to hold a writing conference with their peers.
Partnering up students to read each other’s writing is a great next step after students know the expectations and routine of your writing conferences. Whitney starts this step midway through the school year. Students will read their writing to a partner before they have their conference with the teacher.
Fitting in Student Writing Conferences
Whitney has a 45 minute writing block each day and tries to allow 25 minutes for students to write outside of her lesson. Although she is conferencing with most students every day it isn’t always done within her writing block.
Whitney shares that she starts pulling students to conference in the last 15 minutes of her writing time. This means she is still conferencing with students when the writing block has ended and students have moved on to other tasks.
The important thing to note here is that writing conference do not always need to fit within the time constraints of your writing time. They can be held throughout the day when you find pockets of time.
Some students will be easier to grade than others. As you get to know your students and their writing abilities, you will notice a difference in the time needed for each conference. Longer conferences might be better held in the mornings on another day when both teacher and student are feeling fresh.
Helping Struggling Writers
When teaching primary students you will often find that some students will not remember what they read when it comes time to their conference.
They sit down and just don’t know what they put on the page. What should you do?
Whitney suggests looking at what the student wrote phonetically. Can you make out any words to help prompt their memory? If they drew a picture you can also ask them to tell you about it.
Sometimes Whitney will write what the student says orally above their words on the page.
All students are different and there isn’t a one size fits all for a conference model. Some students may need 2 minutes and some students will need 8 minutes.
Should you keep a conference log?
While Whitney does not keep a conference log, this can be a personal preference. I like to keep a checklist so I can make notes of what I saw each child doing or what we conferenced about. Whitney cautions to not make your log be a mastery tracker. Seeing something one time does not make it mastered.