Conferring with Student Writers: Planning with Purpose by Jen Greene


We all know that it’s important and our students benefit from it.

But what has always caused me great consternation is the how part of conferring:

  • How do I fit conferring into an already jam-packed writing block?

  • How long do I spend with each student?

  • How many students should I meet with each day?

  • How do I keep anecdotal records?

  • How do I know what to say?

  • How? How? How?

It’s easy to let those ‘hows’ take over and prevent you from committing to conferring.

Instead, let's figure out some possible solutions by examining these hows in greater detail.

How do I fit conferring into an already jam-packed writing block?

You may not have a lot of time for independent writing.

In this case, it’s best to maximize that time by deciding on who is most in need of a conference that day.

Quickly scan the room. Is there a student who is hesitant to get started? One who is relying on a writing partner to do most of the work? Start there.

Or you could try a small group conference. Sometimes I even have the students place themselves into a group based on where they are in their writing on a given day.

I know from looking at this that I need to meet with the students who are stuck on ideas. Instead of meeting them individually, I can pull that small group together and we can all put our heads together to brainstorm writing ideas. That allows for conferring with 4 students in one fell swoop.

How long do I spend with each student?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a precise answer to this question. I find that it depends on the student and the purpose of the conference.

Sometimes a conference can be a quick 2-3 minute check-in with a goal in mind such as finish the introduction, revise for punctuation, etc.

Other times there may be a specific teaching point that a student needs, in which case the conference may take a bit longer.

If the conference lasts longer than 10 minutes, it's a sign that whatever you are discussing should become a whole-class mini-lesson. Chances are if one student is struggling with something, others are as well.

How many students should I meet with each day?

It’s pretty unrealistic to think you can meet with all of your students every day.

Take your class number and divide it by the number of days you meet with them every week. That number could become your daily conferring goal. This way, by the end of the week, you will have met with each student one time.

If you use a small group check-in where you’re meeting with a few students in one conference, you could meet with more students each day.

Conferring with students is an important part of writing instruction. It's the time when you check in with each writer, set goals, identify teaching points, and "talk writing."

Jen Greene is a 2nd grade teacher near Philadelphia where she enjoys writing alongside her students. She is co-director of the PAWLP Writing Project’s Summer Institute and is currently working on her dissertation where she is researching the age-old question of how teacher prep programs can prepare teachers to teach writing. As a Teach Write contributor, Jen will visit monthly to share tips for conferring with your student-writers. You can connect with Jen on Twitter.


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