Aim Higher: Conferring and Student Goals
So, you’ve studied your students’ writing, analyzing their work for strengths and next steps. Maybe you took home a giant stack of writers notebooks, or a huge pile of on-demand writing assessments, or maybe you’ve just finished reading their published pieces. In any case, you have a pretty good idea of what each student needs to do to become a stronger writer. Hopefully, you’ve narrowed it down a bit, honing in on just one or two bigger goals for each student.
Well, hopefully the answer is not to simply file away those pieces of writing and never look back. Hopefully there is a plan in place for sharing those goals with kids.
For example, your next round of conferences could involve sharing feedback with students. In those conferences you might:
1. Do a little research. Ask the student, “How do you think this went? What were your biggest strengths as a writer? What do you think are your next steps? What are your goals now?” You might ask students to use a checklist to self-assess their work to help them to talk about their work in a focused way.
2. Reinforce a strength that you’ve noticed. Compliment the student on one strength that you know can transfer to many other pieces of writing. Not only that, show the student examples from her own writing where she’s already doing that work.
3. Share one attainable goal (maybe two) for the student to continue working toward. Name the goal clearly and explicitly. Write the goal down, or if you’re using a checklist, highlight the goal. Share examples of writing that you’d like the child to emulate. Show mentor texts. Show the student places in her current or past writing where she might lift the level of her work. Make it known that over the next days and even weeks you’ll be working with her on the goal. You’ll be asking, “So, what are you working on as a writer?” and you hope that she’ll be working on her goal.
4. Leave behind something visual to help the student remember to be thinking about her goal. It might be a Post-it, or an index card. It might be something that you tape right onto the student’s desk so it can’t ever get lost.
After conferring with kids about their goals, it helps to have a system in place that makes it a little bit easier for you to help kids follow through.
For example, on my favorite conferring note-taking sheet, I have a space at the top of the sheet to write down each student’s goal–this way I don’t forget to check in on their goals.
In some classrooms, teachers have pocket charts set up, where kids place their names next to the goals they are working on. This makes it possible for kids to seek out other kids who have the same goals. This makes it a little easier to manage small groups–you could meet with all the kids who have the same goal in one or two little groups.
Another group of teachers that I work with uses the last few pages of the writers notebooks as a place to list reminders for kids. Each time they have a conference with a student, they write or draw a little reminder on the back page of the notebook. Kids love to share their back pages, and like to compare their notes. In several schools where I have worked, the teachers print out pictures clues on mailing labels, and use those as ‘stickers’ in the back of the notebook. The pictures are usually just clip art that signify common reminders such as “use dialogue” or “show don’t tell” but the kids love them, and want to collect them all. When I was a kid we wanted to collect all the Garbage Pail Kids stickers. The kids in Ms. Valdez’s class want to collect all her conferring stickers.
One teacher I work with partners kids up who have similar goals so that when she confers individually with one student, that kid can teach his partner what he just learned–and they both can benefit from the conference. Another teacher I know partners kids up with different goals, for the same reason!
Once you have a system for goal setting up and running in your classroom, your conferring and small group work feel like they are more like ongoing conversations, rather than one-shot deals. Your conferences might begin with, “So last time we spoke…” rather than starting from scratch over and over again.