big picture · conferring · reflective practice

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

6 thoughts on “Big Picture Series: Conferring

  1. Carl Anderson’s new videos and books, Strategic Writing Conferences is awesome for conferring! The ideas are great and you can see several snippets of him conferring. It was such a great guide to refocus myself.


  2. This post was actually very helpful to me, a college English professor. If I spend time copy-editing their papers, correcting every error, then when they revise they merely fix those errors, without looking to the bigger issues.

    This makes me think there must be a better way than “bleeding ink” all over their essays–a good challenge for this new year!



  3. Wow! This is a keeper. I know I will be much more alert in my conferences tomorrow. Thanks for such a thoughtful entry that could easily be part of an essay in a book. Are you and Stacy beginning to think that way? You should be.

    I will always be grateful to Stacey for introducing herself (and this wonderful blog) to me at TCRWP when she found out I was a lone participant. It has made a difference and your “Big Picture Series” introduction says it all! Thanks.


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