Student Writing Conferences Tips and Tricks
After just a few months of writers workshop, you can start to see growth in your kindergarteners’ writing. Student conferences are some of the trickiest part of being writing teachers. In my own classroom, I often felt inadequate when it came to giving feedback to my student writers. Through my own work in the classroom, I hope I can guide you towards confidence when it comes to your individual conferences with your young writers.
What is a student writing conference?
A writing conference usually takes place during your classroom’s independent writing time. It provides the opportunity for you to quickly assess your students’ needs. Then the teacher identifies teaching points and provides writing instruction on one of those teaching points. The goal is to help create better writers. Remember, it is not about changing the writing, it is about changing the writer. In other words, you will not be correcting their writing, but rather supporting the individual student to write better tomorrow.
What is the purpose of a writing conference?
Let me share the words of the great Donald Graves, “purpose of the writing conference is to help children teach you about what they know so that you can help them more effectively with their writing.”
I will repeat this sentiment about 37 times in this blog post.
How many students should I confer with each day?
The first step is to create a schedule of the individual students you will meet with each day. Displaying this schedule is a great tool to help you stay on track. It will also let your students know when theirteacher-student writing conferences will take place.
- I had 20 students and I needed to meet with EACH of them once at least once a week. Therefore, I met with 4-5 students a day. My struggling writers would often get a mid-week check-in.
- Every student is at a different place in their writing development. (SEE the free Continuum at the end of this blog post.) Therefore, I need to have a clear idea of what my students’ next steps for writing are. There is no point in expecting a beginning runner to run a marathon the next week. The same is true with emergent writers.
- Conferences work best when they are predictable and consistent.
What happens at a writing conference?
Remember that the purpose of the conference is to improve the writer… not necessarily the WRITING. This is not the time to correct their work. This is the time to select ONE skill that you think would elevate them as a writer. Now there might be 10 things barking at you, but you should limit your teaching point to one (or two things). Then follow this predictable structure:
- Investigate, “What are you working on?”
- Notice and Name, “I am noticing you are doing ________. That’s great because that is what writers do.” Give the student meaningful feedback. This positive feedback is a great way to make sure the student will continue to the work of a writer.
- Teach, “ Can I show you something else that great writers do? ” They always agree. At this point, you may reteach a mini lesson you previously taught to your whole class. In general, I don’t introduce new concepts during the conference time. Of course, there are always exceptions.
- Confirm, “So what do you think you might do?” You want to be sure the student understood the suggestion and knows how they will apply it.
What Should I Say During a Writing Conference?
As an elementary teacher, there are so many things to balance. The idea is to quickly review a piece of writing, then provide a little gem of knowledge to drop into the student, and magically, you have a better writer, all under 5 minutes. Easy … right? I wish…
If you start with a conversation about the writing versus asking the student to read their piece, you will have a better idea of the writer’s intent. Remember, you will want to help them be a better writer as a result of your writing conference. It is not about correcting their writing (I just can’t help repeating myself.) When you are looking at a student’s writing, let’s see if these words help with your conference.
If you see unfocused writing try:
- What are you trying to tell the reader?
- What do you want the reader to know?
- Are there parts you could add to make your meaning more clear?
- Why is this part important? (if you see something that does not appear to belong. It might actually be wonderful but a little more clarity might be needed.)
- Let’s put this paper to the side and just tell me more about what you are writing about.
You want to have the student tell more in their writing:
- Tell me more about ___________?
- What else happened here?
HERE WAS MY STRUGGLE: I sit down to confer with a student and I get overwhelmed. I know I need to get to 4 students in a 20 minute period, but I am not sure where to begin with my little writer. I listen to them read their story and my mind is racing with various teaching ideas and I’m distracted by the chatter that is happening at the table next to me. When the child is done reading their piece… I mumble… good job and wander away.
What a waste of time! I found that I really needed more time to sit with a student’s body of writing to develop a plan. I came up with a system!!!! It is called…
Deedee’s Practical Guide So You Won’t Lose Your Mind During Student Writing Conferences!
I may be still working on the title, but the important thing for you to know is I have a solution!
Let’s assume it is Monday
Matt, Caleb, Suzi, and Lidia will hand in their folder when writers’ workshop is over. They will just put it on my desk and we move on to the next subject of the day. During my prep (ha! I mean after school), I look over those 4 students’ bodies of work in their writing folders. I think about where they are on the writing continuum and I think about their next steps.
I have finished my writing mini-lesson and excused my students to go write. NOW Matt, Caleb, Suzi, and Lidia will stay on the carpet with me for a few minutes while I hand out writing goals. This takes about 5 minutes tops because I am prepared. I am not teaching anything new… just reminding them of things they should remember in their writing. It might sound like this:
Matt: I am noticing you are doing a great job with your illustrations. Fantastic! I am wondering if you could work on using colors that make sense?
Caleb: I love you are writing sounds that you hear. I am wondering if you could try to write more than one sound for each word?
Get the picture? It is FAST. 5 minutes TOPs for all of them. Once I have handed out my goals (which I put on a sticky note for them), they go off to write and I confer with those who are scheduled to meet with me.
I will confer with Matt, Caleb, Suzi, and Lidia and look for EVIDENCE that they have attempted the goal I set for them the previous day. WOW! Talk about focus! If they did… fantastic! I might have them continue to work on that until I meet them again. If they did not, my conference is a perfect time to reteach this skill. Of course, I always have the opportunity to teach something else instead.
You can grab your own free copy of the system along with a writing continuum. You’ll find that information at the end of this blog post.
Take Quick Notes During Writing Workshop
I can not tell you how important this is. My conferring notebook is simple. At the beginning of the year, I make t a spiral notebook and add a tab for each student. I write their names on the tabs after the first few days of school. I use the 3M tabs and give each student 3-4 pages for the year.
In my opinion, you don’t need a special conferencing sheet or conferencing form. The conference notes will be a way to reference back to see which writing skill you asked your student to work on. Simple. Here is a peek at my own writing notes.
Here is the deal… your notes are for YOU. They help YOU keep track of this particular writer. Don’t panic… write it down in a way that makes sense to you.
- I usually put the title or subject of their writing. Example: Park with brother
- If I set a goal for them, I put a “G.” Example: G: Colors that make sense
- If I taught them something, I put a “T.” Example: T: Add beg. and ending sounds
- Then I can add other noticings. Example: Needs more help with ideas (this will help me for future goal setting).
Sharing During Writing Time
Sharing is such an important part of writing. In kindergarten, THEY all want to share every day. However, if the entire class shared every day it would take forever and we don’t have that type of class time. Instead, we have a very focused share time. The students that I conferred with that day (4-5 students) share their writing pieces with the whole class.
I do this because I can be on hand to support them and remind them of the new learning they practiced during our conference. It makes the whole group share time focused and efficient. It is also a sort of BONUS mini lesson! Students can hear again how spaces are important in their own writing or how they can tell more on a page by adding simple sentences to go with their illustration.
THEN the rest of the class shares with their own writing partners.
Soon, when you set up your whole group writing share time this way, you will hear students give specific feedback to their writing partners like, “I like how you used colors that make sense, because now I can tell that it is you.”
Kindergarten Student Writing Samples
Let’s take a closer look at some student writing samples from mid-October. I want to keep a few things in mind. At this stage of the writing process and student development we are working on personal narratives. We are also working on telling the story across pages.
(please excuse the red line through the middle of the scanned images… tech fail!)
We talked about creating a cover that grabs the reader’s attention… Love the roller coaster!
Great details in her writing!
Here is another example from a different student.
We also talked about keeping our titles short! Atta girl!
She told about the various things she did there!
I am excited that her story clearly has a beginning, middle, and end. She also included her favorite parts!
Learn More About Writing
I’ve written a blog post or two in my time.
You can learn more about writer’s workshop by reading these articles.
Writing Through the Years – Writers Workshop Print and Teach Writing Curriculum
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Our writing units are so easy to follow and will save you so much time. We have taken the guesswork out of planning with a lesson sequence that will take you from the first unit to the last.
These are written for primary grades by teachers with detailed, scripted grade level appropriate lesson plans at are quick and effective. We have multiple grade levels to meet your needs.
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