Conferring With Student Writers Using A Positive Lens

The basis for conducting writing conferences with student writers is to remember that it should unfold as a conversation between two writers. It is important to establish an expectation of the student writer that they arrive at the conference prepared. -Prepared to talk, prepared to discuss aspects of their writing.  It is not the sole responsibility of the teacher to prepare for a conference. There needs to exist within the classroom writing community a clear expectation that the student writer has attempted to identify a purpose for the conversation. 

By establishing this expectation, a shared responsibility for moving the writing forward is clearly articulated. Both participants bring something to the party. This challenges the notion the teacher alone is here to ‘fix my writing for me. It means both teacher and student are genuine partners in learning. The student writer is no longer totally dependent on the teacher to provide insights on the writing. When teachers establish this important expectation, they begin to grow the metacognitive writer.

The conference should begin with the student unpacking the writing’s intent and the reason they are seeking support from the most experienced writer in the room. Ask the young writer to identify a part in their writing where they believe they have written well. Starting this way allows the teacher to affirm the student writer. 

The teacher may notice other aspects of the writing worthy of affirmation and these should be raised. Doing this establishes in the eyes of the student that here exists a teacher who notices strengths. When students feel competent they are more likely to develop as risk taking writers. If the teacher points out the effective use of a particular writing strategy, or craft move, the student is more likely to consistently adopt the use of such writing strategies.

Why Start With The Writer’s Strengths?
It sets a positive tone when the writer knows their strengths are acknowledged.
  • It fosters further risk taking
  • It allows the teacher to work more frequently with the writer because a trusting relationship is established
  • It encourages the writer to persist
  • It encourages the writer to continue to consistently use those strategies identified as supporting their writing.

Ask yourself, what is this writer doing well? What should they be proud of?  What is this writer showing me they know how to do? Complimenting the efforts and strengths of the student writer’s work forms a small, yet critically important part of the overall conference. 

Such an approach lays the foundation for nudging the writer forward and encouraging the adoption of even more sophisticated strategies in their writing. Taking the time to reinforce good writing practices yields improved writing outcomes in the longer term.


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