Hold Writer-Process Conferences Daily
Literacy expert Carl Anderson has done extensive work in the area of writer conferencing. He claims that conferring with students is a teacher’s most crucial writer’s workshop role. This type of formative assessment reveals the skills students are mastering but also what they need next instructionally.
Conferring with students is nothing new, and most teachers agree on the benefits of conferencing. However, this facet of writing can often be grueling for teachers.
The notion of conferencing often includes a long, laborious meeting with one student at a time at a separate table or at the teacher’s desk. Such a conference is called a product conference as the teacher will spend 15-25 minutes with an individual student going over all parts of his piece. The advantage of this meeting is that the teacher can point out numerous strengths and numerous areas for improvement in preparation for a final draft. While spending all this time with one student is powerful, the other 25 kids lack teacher feedback and support for a long time.
Although these types of conferences are important, product conferences should happen infrequently. Plan to conduct them only about three or four times a year, in preparation for publishing a piece. In between, converse with students via frequent process conferences.
Students need feedback during all stages of the writing process–not just during the final revision and editing stages. Unlike the longer product conference, a process conference lasts only a few minutes, and it can happen at any stage in the writing process. Teachers may sit down with students and talk about choosing a topic or discuss their pre-writing plan or give feedback as they draft a new piece or when they’re fine-tuning it.
Students would rather have a few minutes of teacher feedback regularly versus 20 minutes once a month. They need to be in touch with the teacher more often, but they do not necessarily need to be one-on-one. Leading a process conference with small groups of students allows more students to receive feedback more often.
During the 2-5 minute process conference, each student will read a small portion of his writing and receive a specific compliment from the teacher. Then, the teacher offers individuals (or the whole group) a single suggestion for improvement. (Since this group meeting is much shorter, there isn’t time to point out all the weaknesses.) These compliments and comments are all based on the 6 Traits of Writing. An added benefit to conversations with multiple students is that they can grow from listening in as feedback is offered to their peers.
Group process conferences allow teachers to touch base with more students each day and provide a critical formative assessment of where students are and what they need next.
For more information about the substance and management of these short group conferences, check out the related posts on the right.