Writing Conferences

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What Is It?

The writing conference is at the heart of teaching writing and is the core of the writing workshop.The writing conference is a one-on-one strategy, that takes place between the student writer and the teacher. Conferring is perhaps the best opportunity for direct and immediate teaching of the complex processes and skills involved in writing. Individual conferences generally are short, about two to five minutes, and occur while the other students are involved in their own independent writing projects.

One of the primary purposes of the writing conference is to help students take a deeper look at their writing and ask themselves questions such as, "What else do I want or need to say?" "What can I add?" "Does this make sense?" "How can I change this to make it better?" and "What kinds of questions will the reader ask?" Teachers, listening and asking questions during individual conferences, help students look at their own writing with a critical eye while also helping them begin to ask themselves these kinds of questions.

Conferences can occur at any stage of the writing process. As a result, they can be an avenue for one-on-one instruction covering a wide range of writing skills, strategies, and concepts.

Why Is It Important?

One-on-one conferences with students give teachers a chance to zero in on what each student needs as a writer. According to Don Graves (1994), the "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."

Perhaps the most important goal of teaching writing is to create independent writers. "Real" writers are constantly asking themselves questions—such as the ones above-about their writing and looking for ways to make it more meaningful, accurate, and clear—in short, to say precisely what they want to say and get their intended meaning across to their readers. According to Lucy Calkins (1994), "In order for young writers to learn to ask such questions of themselves, teachers and peers need to ask them of young writers. Teacher-student and peer conferences, then, are at the heart of teaching writing. Through them students learn to interact with their own writing."

Shelley Harwayne (2001) has four guidelines regarding her goals and what she wants to learn from student writers that she keeps in mind as she conducts her conferences:

  • Find out how students feel about being asked to write.

  • Find out if students take risks as writers.

  • Find out if students understand what writing is for.

  • Find out if students know how to improve their writing.

Conferences can be a powerful tool to begin to understand your students as writers and guide them to an understanding of themselves as writers.

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