Recipe for Conferring Success


I baked a delicious chocolate peanut butter chip quick bread this past weekend. It came from a mix. (See how honest I am!) However, it required a few ingredients, such as eggs, water, and cocoa powder, to be added. I put all of those items into the Kitchen Aid Mixer and poof! Two minutes later it was ready for the loaf pan.

I’ve been thinking that conferring with kids in Writing Workshop should be as easy as making quick bread. However, it’s a bit more complex and requires an actual recipe and some organization in order for it to be successful. Jen Serravallo, who I studied with in 2006 at the TCRWP Summer Writing Institute, said it takes about two years to get really good with conferring. TWO YEARS!!!! The way you get good at conferring is not just by reading professional books, but by actually doing it! When I was trying to get better with my writing conferences I’d often try to repeat the same conference (i.e., teaching point) three or four times in the same period so that I could perfect it with each kid I went to. (Of course, that didn’t always happen because when I researched a student I realized that they might not need that teaching point. However, in a perfect world repeating the same conference a few times in a period can really help).

Now that I’ve been teaching for a few years, I’ve realized that there’s a recipe, of sorts, to help yourself get ready to confer with a writer. You need to have all of your “stuff” in one place so you can whip it out and hit the ground running once your students leave the meeting area with their plans for that day’s independent writing time in hand. Here’s what I’m thinking I’ll need to help make the first unit of study I’m teaching on keeping a writer’s notebook run really smoothly.

RECIPE FOR CONFERRING SUCCESS:

  • Several of my writer’s notebooks, with entries that correspond to strategies I’m teaching in my minilessons, tabbed for quick location.
  • Photocopies of my best writer’s notebook entries so I can give them to a child to use as an example, not an exemplar.
  • Photocopies of former students’ writer’s notebook entries (names and other identifying details crossed off).
  • List of possible teaching points for conferences.
  • Conference Record Sheets
  • A mini-clothespin chart that shows me, visually, who I conferred with recently. This way I’m not always chatting with the same kid.
  • Post-it notes
  • Writing implements
  • I have a portable three-ring binder that I house all of these things in. It has a zipper around three of the sides so that nothing falls out. Mine looks something like this: