Writer’s workshop is such an important part of the balanced literacy approach to teaching. I hope you have a good routine in place and your little writers are loving being authors! One of the most important pieces of writer’s workshop is the conferring time. This is the meat and potatoes of it because you get to really see what growth is happening for each student! Writer’s workshop conferences build stronger authors and allow for differentiated teaching.
Why and When to Conference
Conferencing with each and every student allows you to give them individualized instruction, or differentiate for your learners. This is how you can informally assess their writing, see their understanding of writing concepts, and build their confidence by recognizing what they can do well. An added bonus is getting to see how funny your students are through their storytelling. Conferencing during writer’s workshop gives you an in-depth look into your students’ understanding of writing.
I made it a point to meet with each student at least once per week, but usually saw each student more than once a week. Each conference might last three to seven minutes, depending on the student. If I had time, sometimes on Friday I would follow up with a few writers who really needed it.
The Framework of Writer’s Workshop Conferences
There are so many different ways you can structure a writer’s workshop conference. Once you get started, you’ll find ways to tweak your routine to make it more efficient and effective. Here is a basic system you can work through with each student:
- Ask and Listen
Ask students open-ended questions to get them to open up about their writing piece and then listen. We want to get them to talk about their writing like authors and as high level as possible.
My usual go-to questions include:
- What are you working on today as an author?
- Can you read me what you have so far and tell me what else you want to include?
- Is there anything you need help with right now?
- Can you help me understand this part?
- Can you tell me about your picture?
It’s so important to listen to what they say because it will teach you a lot about their thinking. Read over their writing. Get a good feel of what they are doing well and what teaching points you might need to include.
Look for one or two things your little writers have done well, especially if it was a previous teaching point for them. This is where you get to help build their confidence as writers and show them their progress. Try to be as specific as possible!
For example: “Last time we talked about your writing, I asked you to try to include a period at the end of the sentence and a capital letter at the beginning. I see you did that here and here. That made your writing easier to read. Great work!”
“I noticed that you have spaces between your words this time! That makes it much easier for a reader to read! I love how simple it was for me to read your writing with you!”
The teaching point is where you get to differentiate your teaching for each student. Think to yourself, “Of everything I could possibly teach this child right now, what one thing would make the biggest impact for this student and their writing?” Then explicitly teach them the point/strategy, explain why it is important, and model it for them or coach them through it. The teaching point might be a state standard, a point from a writing continuum, something you observe as a need, or an item from a district-based set of standards.
Be sure to remind your student what the skill they’re going to keep practicing is and why it’s important. Another thing I did was remind them that they will get to share their writing today at the end of writer’s workshop. This helped me make sure that everyone got to share at least once in the week!
How to Keep Track of It All
There are many ways to keep track of your notes during writer’s workshop conferences. You can have a spiral and put tabs on every few pages for each student and record it in there. You can have a binder with a tab for each student and use plain paper. I was super simple and just wrote the date at the top of my page, then made a list of who I talked to and what my teaching point was. This also helped me make sure I met with each student for that week and I could easily see I needed to meet with.
One teacher friend had each student’s name in one column, then a column for general comments, and a column for the teaching point. By the end of the week, I’d easily see that I had met with each student. Find a simple way for you to keep track of who you’ve met with, when you saw each student, and how each student is doing.
A Few Final Tips
- Even if you don’t feel confident yet in your writer’s workshop conferences, just keep doing it! Spending time listening to a student share their work and giving feedback not only helps your students’ writing, but it also helps build a positive relationship with them.
- Try not to overwhelm students with too many questions or teaching points in one meeting. I really try to stick to one teaching point. They will also get teaching points from the whole-group mini-lesson you do at the beginning of writer’s workshop.
- If you see several students with the same writing issue, you might pull them together to your table and have a small group conference to address it at the same time. If it’s more than just a few students, you might need to go back and reteach a skill to the whole class.
- Remember to give your students plenty of wait time in between your questions and rephrasing of your questions. Some little authors just need more time to put their words together to share their work.
Writer’s workshop conferences are crucial to writing development. We get to guide our students, build their confidence, and help them develop a love for writing. What a powerful time!