Teaching Tips for Successful Conferences with Elementary Writers: Part 2-5

In part one of this blog series, I shared tips on the conference challenges of the old-fashioned English teacher mindset. Keep reading to learn about another common conferencing challenge I hear from teachers during coaching.

I Don’t Know What to Conference About

Solution — Use Organizing Tools to Stay On Top of Student Progress
Keeping good notes for each student conference will help you choose teaching points wisely. WriteSteps provides a conference sheet you can staple to the inside back cover of each student’s writer’s notebook. This is a handy way to record the date and teaching points for each conference. Checking these dates regularly also helps you ensure that you’re conferencing with each student regularly.

Also, consider whatkind of conferencing you need for this lesson. WriteSteps teaches two kinds of conferencing:

Roving Conferencing is informal and very brief. After demonstrating a teaching point – say, adjectives – you circulate while students write. This is a time for looking over shoulders, making sure each child is on-task, giving some structure to one who needs help getting started, and ensuring that students have understood the task correctly.

Formal Conferencing takes longer and begins several weeks into the school year. Classroom management and expectations are already well-established (more on this below). Now you can conference formally with a handful of students individually while the rest of the class is writing independently. This is a time to individualize instruction.

You can see both kinds of conferences in this 10-minute demonstration video.

Tip: When students are very young, it’s easy to spot your teaching points by glancing at their papers. If I notice that Jeremy’s paper is covered with backwards “C”s and misspellings of the word “dog,”these are my teaching points! I simply take a few moments to set Jeremy up practicing forming C’s, and review how to “stretch out”sounds (or locate sight words on the WriteSteps privacy folder).

It is common to conference more about spelling and
conventions in kindergarten and first grade, since
younger children have more to learn in order to make their
writing readable. WriteSteps lessons support more complex,
age-appropriate skills in grades 2-5, as do
the Common Core writing standards.

Tip: Since older students write longer, more complex pieces, you’ll need time to read their work ahead of time to absorb what they’ve written and choose your teaching points.
Tip: Keep a list of the focus skills (Common Cores) you have taught the class so far. If you are working with a child who has a good grasp on the grade-level focus skills, introduce something more sophisticated: figurative language, synonyms, or word choice, for example.