A Secret to Conferring

I like to figure out why writers make the choices they make. It’s fascinating to learn about writers’ processes, just as it is fascinating to gain insight into the processes of the writers in our classrooms. I think one of the secrets to conferring is to remember that every action reveals who our students are as writers.

The more I confer, the more I realize there are many different paths any writer can take. There isn’t necessarily a “right” way to write. However, there are ways to become more proficient. By analyzing our students’ actions as writers, we are able to gain keen insight into what they need as writers.

It’s not necessarily what they are doing as writers, but why. When we figure out why, we can figure out how to help them. The challenge is to become a behavior detective. By first identifying what they are almost doing, we are able to hone in on a meaningful teaching point.

For example, today I conferred with a 7th grade writer about his research project. He is learning about baseball in Asia. As we talked, I realized he was beginning to categorize his information. He had a plan for his display in order to organize his information into three main parts. This is a good lens to have as a researcher.

However, his three subtopics didn’t really have a common thread (other than he thought they were interesting). Here is where  I met what he is almost doing well. He is almost organizing his information in a meaningful way. If I didn’t spend a few minutes talking with him, I would have thought he was doing it well.

We talked about synthesizing the information he is gathering. I challenged him to look for common themes and new understandings that he gains as he learns more about baseball in Asia.

“I think it might have something to do with their history,” he said. “Did you know they’ve been playing baseball in Asia since the 1800’s? Maybe I could do something with this, build it up and make everything connect back to the importance of something lasting a long time.”

Once I saw the why to his process — collecting interesting facts and trying to group them — I was able to help him refine his process. I helped him consider a focused theme. This is significant work.

And it happens because I confer with students – one on one, day in and day out.