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Make Notes During Writer Conferences
FAQ: What observations should teachers record during a writer conference?
ANSWER: There is a variety of information teachers may want to record during a writer conference, but it should be noted that the form is not the focus. Rather, the teacher’s top priority is to have more conversations with more writers more frequently. Consequently, if documentation will inhibit the quantity or quality of conferring, then hold off on introducing any form. That said, there is a lot of power in the teacher recording what was said, heard, and seen in a writer conference.
Select a form for efficiency
Some teachers utilize a spiral notebook, designating a page per student to jot observations and noticings. For one-on-one conversations, this may work well. However, with a group-conference approach, this is often too cumbersome. Rather, a single sheet of paper on a clipboard allows the teacher to see the class at a glance.
Record individual information
During each day’s writer’s workshop, move throughout the room conducting short group meetings and making brief notes on the form. As the week progresses, use the blank squares to guide the writers you still need to seek out.
Within each student’s square, note the following:
- The topic or type of writing the student is working on.
- The writing trait and skill that was complimented.
- The writing trait and skill that was discussed as an area to target.
Keep in mind, there isn’t a lot of space to write within each square. Therefore, use abbreviations, codes, and symbols that allow you to make specific notes succinctly. (TIP: If the same compliment and/or comment was given to several students in the group, simply draw arrows between the boxes, rather than taking the time to recopy the information. This is another advantage to organizing the names on the form geographically, rather than alphabetically.)
Note observations about the class
While noting an individual writer’s strength and weakness, conferences are pivotal to determining future whole-class mini-lessons, too.
The right-hand column provides a place to jot the collective weaknesses observed in numerous students throughout the class. This is the epitome of formative assessment–using daily check-ins to drive future instruction.
Hold students accountable
All these conference notes are only helpful if they are referenced within follow-up conversations. In other words, teachers should plan to reread their own notes!
A quick skim of points made in a previous conversation reminds the teacher what to be on the lookout for in each student’s writing today. Some teachers even have the students jot down on their own paper the target skill mentioned during the conference. This provides students a visual reminder and accountability as to what to be working on until the next writer conference. (TIP: For primary students, the teacher could jot the skill on a sticky note and leave it behind for the writer.)