I love having writing conferences with my students. It is one of the best ways to learn about their strengths and goals in writing as well as to get to know them better as students. How do you decide what to work on with your students during conferences? I like to use engagement inventories, On-demand writing samples, and previous notes to help me prioritize the skills that will move students forward in their writing. This post will be the first in a series about writing conferences, focusing on preparing and selecting the skills.
One of the first things I like to do is get an idea of which students need help with engagement during writing workshop. Last year, our awesome instructional coach helped with this by conducting a writing engagement inventory while I was working with students. (If you do not have an instructional coach, you could do this on your own.) I wrote about writing engagement inventories on a previous post. You can read about them here. They are a great way to see the varying levels of stamina during writing workshop. I found some students were able to stay on task the whole time, some needed some immediate assistance with engagement, and many were somewhere in between.
I do prioritize engagement as a topic for my first writing conferences. The most important thing I do here is make sure students have appropriate topics as well as strategies to self-monitor. More to come on specific strategies I use in conferences on a post in the near future.
On-demand Writing Sample
Before every unit, I administer an On-demand writing assessment to gather information about strengths and possible goals for each unit of writing. You can read more about On-demand writing assessments here. After looking through the writing samples, I score them on a district-provided continuum. (If you are interested a Lucy Calkins continuum, you can find them on the following links: narrative, informational, opinion) The continuum is extremely useful for matching students to appropriate goals. After looking closely at the continuum, I make a decision about the best area of focus for each child. I track this information by listing students’ names in the appropriate section of where I think the focus of conferences should be in order to move them forward. I use this form for writing strategy groups as well. However, I almost always meet with them individually first to make sure the groups are compatible. You can download the form by clicking here or on the picture below. (If you’d like to use the form digitally, you just need to add text boxes.)
Previous Conference Notes
I use the app Confer to take my conference notes for writing. This app is no longer available, but I thought it might be helpful to see the categories I include. I also take a picture of the student’s writing to show a place where we worked on the skill together. I use the comment section for a variety of notes like where they are in the writing process, possible future goals, and level of enthusiasm.
If you are looking for a form to track your information, I found a couple of good free ones on TPT here and here. I believe that conference notes are invaluable when it comes to making decisions about the most appropriate goals for each student. The notes do not need to be super lengthy, but they should share where the student is at (compliment), the goal, and the current strategy.
Talk to the Students
In Carl Anderson’s book A Teacher’s Guide to Writing Conferences, he recommends beginning each conference by asking students what they are working on. If they answer with a skill that you do not feel is an appropriate goal, you can respond by asking, “What else are you working on?” Allowing students input on the direction to the conference can give the students ownership in their goals. Hopefully, this will lead to a more productive writing conference. I am going to try and add this element to my writing conferences next year. My notes will likely look slightly different after implementing this. I will share the results with you on a future post.