Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Five Tips For More Effective Conferencing During Writing Workshop

"In the classrooms of some teachers, children grow in leaps and bounds, while in the classrooms of other teachers, children make only modest gains.  I am utterly convinced that the difference has everything to do with the two teachers' abilities to confer."

~From the wise Lucy Calkins in One to One


While I totally agree with her statement, I also want to say that finding my groove in conferencing has been TOUGH and sort of a journey of discovery. 

Here are some changes I've implemented over the years that have helped elevate my kids' writing and have helped me focus more on strengthening my focus on how I can best help my class.

1: Build Writing Stamina: 
Increasing their stamina gave me much needed conferencing time.  We do it for reading with success so I knew it was time to implement in writing as well. Simple fact: More time spent reading equals better readers.  More time engaged in writing results in stronger writers.  When did I have this revelation?  Not too long ago.  Read on!

While attending a Professional Development course, my supervisor simply said, "Spend the next twenty minutes writing about your favorite vacation."  About six minutes in, one teacher got up to go to the bathroom.  A few minutes later, another teacher closed her notebook and started reading a book.  Another finished, took out some yogurt and ate it.

After twenty minutes, (the duration we were told we'd be writing for) said supervisor wasn't too happy.  Were our kids taking bathroom breaks? Moving on when done to reading a book (During WRITING time). When kids were "done" did we let them get snack, move to game, etc?

She told us that when it's writing time, kids need WRITE.  Period.  No bathroom breaks, trips to water fountain, etc.  I wasn't too sure how it would work with my Firsties.


The next day, I explained how we needed to write and write hard during WW time.  Within a few weeks, our daily writing time was a 45-minute block.  I didn't think it would work but it's been a beautiful thing, my friends!  I play my music and they write.  If they are done (which we know they aren't!) before I can conference with them (or even if stuck) they simply start another piece.  Yes, that is clutch.  It is writing time so there are NO OTHER OPTIONS.  (I want to add that the "no bathroom" rule worked.  Amazing.  Has never been an issue.)

2.Expand Use of Roving and Formal Conferences 


             I use this form to keep track of my formal conferences.  (Click to Grab!)
Roving conferences happen each day during WW.  I do a quick walk around at the beginning, middle, and end of session.  This is a quick check-in that helps me assess what kids are doing/accomplishing and keeps them focused.  They KNOW it's only a matter of minutes before I come around so they write to produce. This is QUICK.  Sometimes I stop and highlight a gem, other times I may just say, "You're missing punctuation."  I can get through my class in record time.
Formal conferencing has been much trickier to fit in but ever since I have a M-F schedule, it's been smooth sailing.  I formally meet with every child twice a week and use the form above.  It's up to ME to stay FOCUSED for best results so recording is a must for me and keeps me on target with meeting their needs.  One problem I had: hard to meet 24 kids TWICE a week. (I manage to fit 6 kids in a day during WW time)  But I did figure out a way...
Increasing these opportunities for both was easier than I thought. Although I have "official" WW five days a week for an hour, we obviously write other days.  I use Family Journals, Filling Buckets (writing compliment to friend), Love Note Time (each week they write a letter to a friend, teacher, family member on fun stationary) to help with roving but mostly FORMAL conference opportunities. Family Journal time alone gives me the best opportunity to do this.  What do you do to carve out some extra formal conferencing time?  I'd love to hear it!
TIP: I take home and read the stories that are longer and pretty polished off the bat to give a quick read through. Saves TIME and makes my time with them more effective. Usually the advanced writers in my class...
TIP: I arrange my conferencing binder according to daily conferencing schedule so all kids for the day are grouped together. And although I use the above mainly for FORMAL assessment, I do, at times, use it for roving to jot down a note such as who had tough day, awesome day, offered super "gem" to class.  Helpful to have.

3. Focus on ONE Teaching Point

I have been oh-so-guilty of trying to fix everything at once.  Why do that?  It's ineffective and such a motivator drainer for the kids.  Zapped the energy of all involved.  Still, I battle the impulse to point out a list of things from time to time especially when it's later in the year.  The TP may not be the same as the one that kicked off WW that day.  It's usually individualized to writer/what's on paper.  After all, that's the beauty of the individualized conference! 

4. Use/Reflect on Your Notes!
If you are taking the time to write down notes, reread them before meeting again so you don't fall into same type of conference with your student.  Three years ago, I complimented  a child one day and she said, "You always say that to me."  Ugh!  It was a struggling writer so I went for the "easiest" compliment at the time.  (Spacing!) I surely wasn't helping her grow as a writer and I doubt she was eager to conference with me and my insincere compliment. Who doesn't love a good compliment?   Substance is a must!  (I started to take home her writing so I could give better feedback and set goals when we met again.)

5. Conversational Tone
I try hard to make this a time where kids are eager to discuss their progress and are eager to set new goals.  I feel much less stressed now that I've expanded my conferencing times as it gives us both time to breathe.  I LISTEN more to them.  I talk slower.  I feel that I'm not as "frantic" in my quest to "fix it all" and our meeting, with sheet above in front of me, allows us to chit chat a minute before we even look at their writing.  It's often during that first minute of chatting that the kids get a lightbulb moment for their next writing topic.

If you have any tips for me, I'd appreciate hearing them.  My WW program is always being tweaked!  Always a WIP! How about yours?


  1. Hi Lisa,

    Thank you for posting your writing workshop tips and your conferencing log. Are you going to post anything about the morning message you talked about last year? Jennifer Jacobson, author of No More "I'm Done!" Fostering Independent Writers in the Primary Grades, referred me to your site because your blog featured the morning message similar to what she describes in her book. I was looking for the post recently, but it is no longer there. I know several other teachers who are interested in learning more about how you use the morning message in your classroom.

    I've enjoyed using the products you created and sold through Teachers Pay Teachers.
    Have a great first day of school!


  2. Hi Karol~

    Thanks so much for your kind words. The post is still on this blog:

    I'm not familiar with Jennifer's book but just looked it up and it's now in my "to read" pile. I'm glad she thought my post would be helpful to you. If allowed, I would have a 60 minute Morning Meeting/Message! :)

    My first day is still three weeks away but I admit to being eager to get back to my kiddos.

    Thanks so much for stopping by. Happy reading!


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