Big Picture Series: Conferring

“Teach the writer, not the writing.” – Lucy Calkins


Do you ever feel exasperated by all of the errors you see in your students’ writing?  The conference begins and before you know it you’ve given lots of useful advice on how to fix the writing.  You look over and notice your student is completely deflated, having no desire to continue working on his writing.

            It is times like this when Lucy’s words ring in my mind:  “Teach the writer, not the writing.”  If I teach the writer, then I’m more concerned that she is learning something she can use not only on the current piece she is writing, but on the following one and the one following that and forever-the-rest-of-her-life.

            To make this shift, I had to constantly remind myself that I cared more about the people in the classroom, than I cared about the production of perfect pieces.  With the coaching of Carl Anderson, I began to pause and ask myself, “What is the one thing this student needs most right now in order to improve as a writer?”  Before, I would look at the writing and identify all of the things that needed to be changed in order to improve it.  Now I look at the student.

            A sure-fire way to tell if I have taught the student rather than the writing, is to take note of her demeanor when I leave the conference.  When teaching the writing, often students will be deflated, lifeless, and void of any energy to continue work on their writing.  They feel as though they have so many faults that they will never succeed, so why even attempt it. 

            By stark contrast, when I’ve taught the writer, then he is lively, upbeat, and anxious to get on with his work.  Often he begins using the strategy I’ve just taught before I can jot down my teaching point and be off to my next conference.  His energy is contagious and I too feel excitement to continue the challenging writing work that is ahead of me in Writing Workshop.



            Today take note of the body language of each student you confer with.  As the conference continues are they becoming lifeless or engaged?  Is their pencil itching to continue working on the page or do they begin fiddling inside their desks, looking for a pencil sharpener or an extra eraser or anything else to avoid the writing?  Record your observations before moving to your next conference.


Reflective Journal:

What did you notice about your students’ demeanors after they had a conversation with you about their writing?  If there were different reactions, what do you think made the difference?  Consider if you taught writers or writing today.  Which did you teach yesterday?  How can you ensure that tomorrow (and everyday after for-the-rest-of-your-life) you will teach writers, not the writing?


For More Information:

How’s It Going by Carl Anderson