I have feedback conferences for daily work, feedback conferences for writing, and grading conferences. My students choose their writing and reading, and when I conference with them about their writing, I have learned to have super long wait time when I ask them what they want help with.
I don’t start with what I see needs feedback, I start with what they see. I want them to identify what their goal is and how I can help. The more they get used to this, the more they own their work, the more they own their writing. Sometimes I give them examples of how they can show not tell, or how they can build scene setting, or I ask them about their choices. I usually ask if I’ve given them “enough” to think about. More and more, I feel like I’m giving very little direction, and they’re getting a lot from the conference.
I don’t think I spend more than 5-7 minutes per conference. I don’t read much of their work. I don’t have to. I simply need to read enough to “suspect” what their purpose is.
It’s because it’s on them to think about what they need. They must use metacognition to analyze their work. I’m meeting them where they are, and we discuss how they can move forward.
The biggest impact of this type of conferencing is that they feel as though we’re both writers talking about writing. As we continue to conference about their writing, it doesn’t feel like I’m telling them how to “fix” writing but giving them things to employ and to think about to make their writing what they envision.
I also always make sure they know that they can take any and all of my feedback or leave it. I stress that they are the writers, and that if my feedback doesn’t resonate, then they can simply move on. It’s rare that they don’t accept my feedback because it’s given as me in the audience role, asking questions, not slashing through words, phrases, sentences, or paragraphs.
Each and every writing conference is very different, and often I have to shift my thinking to help a student differently. For instance, today, I conferenced with a highly gifted writer, who writes in that process I call magic. She just writes scenes as they come to her, often not knowing what or where she is going with it. I don’t ask her to figure that out. I just ask questions, and I talk about what she might need to do to come back to a scene to flesh it out once she has her plan.
I conferenced with another writer today who is excited about their story, but this is new for them, this passion. They came to middle school hating to write, but now they love it. The difference is simple: they, in my ela class, get to choose what they write. I start class with a daily inquiry question, but their daily writing, they choose.
I end each conference asking how helpful the feedback and discussion was for them. I ask them to articulate what impacted them. Here are some recent answers:
- Very helpful. I see how much more I need to put in this scene to show not tell.
- So helpful. I get that I need to know my character better.
- So helpful because I realize I can revise this part a lot and have fun with it.
- Mostly helpful. I know what I should do, but I know I need to go back to play with my writing more.
And they believe they are writers. They are. A writer writes. That’s it.
My voice is the voice of an experienced mentor who enjoys exploring ideas, writing techniques, and mostly, honoring their writing voices.
Up next: how we get distracted by technology, even when it’s for good not evil.
Wondering how other teachers run their writing conferences in a workshop model.
Goal: Write that “up next” blog by next week.
Gratitude: learning from my students and having them inspire my own writing.