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What is a Writing Conference? - Definition & Examples

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Writing conferences are an important part of writer's workshop. How can teachers plan for them and use them to guide student learning? This lesson will give you details on conferences, from planning to note taking.

What Are Writing Conferences?

Teachers have a few important roles in the creation of student writing. Besides being the point person for rich instruction on craft and mechanics, teachers also provide important support in the form of writing conferences, or one-on-one meetings between the student and teacher that lasts about five to ten minutes. During this time, they review a piece of writing. Why is this?

Humans are social creatures. We make sense of information by discussing and thinking about it with other people. When students share their writing with a teacher, they are able to learn about their work and reflect on important aspects of themselves as a writer. How do writing conferences work?

Ms. Katherine is getting ready to conference with a student, Tyler, who is writing a piece about his favorite sport, croquet. Let's peek in as the two sit down to talk.

The Writing Conference

Today is Tyler's day to conference with Ms. Katherine. How does he know this? Ms. Katherine is careful and intentional when she sets up routines in her classroom. At the beginning of the year, she walked her students through the components of a writer's workshop, or WWS, the time during the day students work on writing. WWS has many aspects, including a mini lesson, independent writing time, small group work, conferences and share time. Ms. Katherine set a schedule, which she posts on the wall, of days she meets with students. This way they knew when they could talk to her about their work.

In addition to writing lesson plans for whole and small group instruction, Ms. Katherine also plans before meeting with each student. Though these plans aren't as time intensive as creating overarching lesson plans, they are just as important. Ms. Katherine keeps a folder for each student into which she jots notes as she confers. She notices what students are doing well with, as well as areas in which they struggle. Though many students have several things to compliment and work on, she keeps her focus on just one thing at a time.

Before meeting with Tyler, she peeked into his folder and saw that last conference he was showing great improvement on his grammar, especially his awareness of punctuation. However, he was having trouble organizing his thoughts. She gave him a few pointers on organization, talked each through, and helped him make a plan by co-creating a graphic organizer he could use.

Today she'll check in on his graphic organizer, notice new successes and struggles, and find a teaching point. Ready to see how this looks in action?

Details on Writing Conferences

Like all things in Ms. Katherine's classroom, writing conferences have a predictable routine. Students know what to expect when they sit down next to Ms. Katherine - they know she'll ask questions and ask them to share their work and thinking. By now, Tyler is comfortable sharing with Ms. Katherine and jumps right in.

Touching Base

The first thing Ms. Katherine does when conferencing with any student is ask him to 'catch her up.' In other words, she gives them an opportunity to talk through the work they've completed since the last conference. This serves a few purposes. One, by stating their progress, the student is able to better visualize what they are and aren't doing as writers. Sometimes they become more aware of what they may have forgotten, like to write an important step. Talking through work also gives them a chance to mentally organize their thinking.

Catching Ms. Katherine up also informs her as a teacher. Besides being made aware of student progress, she gets a glimpse into what the student is thinking about their work and how they are organizing new learning.

Zooming in on Content

After being caught up, Ms. Katherine goes right into teaching mode. Using her notes from the previous meeting as a guide, she looks over his graphic organizer and reads his new paper with him. She's looking for things he did well, so she can reinforce these skills and build confidence. She's also noticing and making notes on areas he struggles.

Right away it's obvious the graphic organizer did its job. Tyler's paper on how to play croquet is following a good sequence and makes sense to readers who don't know the sport. She compliments him on this progress and makes notes on it in his folder. She notices, though, that there aren't a lot of details. For example, how do players know which ball is theirs? Are there colors? And how do they keep track of turns or score?

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