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NYC Helpline: How To: Teach Literacy

How to Confer in Your Writers’ Workshop by Allison Demas

Writers’ Workshop isn’t about the finished piece of writing; it’s about the process and craft of writing. Each piece may not be wonderful, but the knowledge the student gains, and then applies to future pieces, is wonderful.

When you confer you will address content, expectations, and process and goals (what to do and how to do it). However, the most important part of conferring takes place long before you say a word. You need to observe the writing and the writer. You are the witness to this student’s experience. Don’t just look at the text and find what you would correct or add - it’s not your story. You need to look at the text and see what the student did as a writer. Then determine what he or she needs to do in order to grow as a writer.

When you observe your student’s behavior you must consider why the behavior is occurring. If a student is not on task a variety of reasons could be the source of this distraction. Is the student excited about a topic other than the one s/he is writing? If so you would use your conference to address the distraction and suggest a solution - maybe the student could write about this new, exciting topic and then go back to the original topic later.

If the student is simply ignoring the rules then your conference would review the expectations of behavior during the workshop. For example, if a student is talking non-stop to another student about a topic not concerning writing, you might strongly suggest that the student do his/her own work and stop bothering the kid in the next seat. After all, not all conferences are esoteric.

When you confer you are trying to help the student get more information out of his/her head and onto the page. This could entail showing the student what s/he needs to do and guiding him/her through the entire process. If you deem that a student understands a concept and can continue independently, you might just demonstrate a technique and then move on to another student. Personally, no matter what I am teaching I believe in my “holy trinity of teaching”: show, practice, try. I show them what I want them to do, we practice together, and then they try independently. This may be appropriate for your students, or it may not. I am used to working with four and five year olds--we practice a lot.

Instead of providing direct instruction you may choose to provide the student with samples of writing and have the student determine how the samples apply to his or her own craft. This approach is primarily used with more sophisticated (for this generally read “older”) writers.

Conferring is not one-size-fits-all. There are different reasons and different approaches for each conference. No matter what teaching method you choose to use, or the purpose of your conference, you must make sure that it fits the student.

Questions or comments? E-mail Allison.

See also:
How to Teach Reading through Conferring in Writing by Arlyne LeSchack

 

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