Conferencing with student writers can be magical. There is no greater feeling than seeing a student’s creativity come alive or seeing their understanding grow before your eyes. Conferencing allows teachers to work with each individual student one on one, building stronger writing and relationships along the way. Spending time in a one on one writing conference communicates to a student: your voice matters. How can you implement writing conferences in the secondary ELA classroom? Here are four essentials that will help you to maximize your time with each student:
1. Keep a running record.
Running records are not just an elementary teacher’s tool. Running records in the secondary classroom are the perfect tool for tracking writing conferences. In writing conferences, I use a running record to record each student’s progress and ideas. With around 100 students every year, having a record of student’s progress helps me to flag students who are way behind and need extra help, keep track of the students I’ve met with, and helps me to remember each student’s topic so when they ask, “What did you think of my story?” I have a tool to help me remember! Click here to download the simple running record form I use in my classroom.
2. Bring an outline or plot line to your conference. The biggest concern I address in writing conferences is where to go next or how to best organize ideas. An outline form informational writing or plot line for narrative writing works as our map. I can easily point students in the right direction and give them a structure for reference. Even if we’ve worked with the outline as a whole class, most students benefit from direct review in the context of their own writing. When students are way off, referring to an outline or plot line helps me to gently redirect them so they can better organize their writing. 3. Keep a stack of mentor texts nearby. When I direct a student to add transition words or fix the punctuation in their quotes, it’s helpful to have a mentor text to use as a model. A mentor text shifts the feel of a conference from “this is what my teacher thinks I should do” to “this is what a professional, published writer does.” Mentors also provide students with concrete examples of the tasks we’re asking them to do. Using a published author’s work communicates to students: I believe you can reach this level. You are an author, too.
4. Always provide a copy of the rubric. Having a rubric at each writer’s conference is essential. Rubrics provide students with a list of clear expectations. During conferences, rubrics also give the teacher prompts for discussion. If you're unsure of what kind of feedback to give to student writers, look at the rubric categories. Giving feedback on content, organization, evidence, and grammar, common rubric categories, is a great starting point.
The biggest obstacle to effective writing conferences is time. Prepare for quick, meaningful conferences with running records, outlines/plot lines, mentor texts, and rubrics. These simple tools will help you to maximize this special time with your student writers.