Conferring Toolkits: Cheat Sheets

Conferring Toolkits Series - Two Writing TeachersTo be honest, I never created an official Conferring Toolkit when I was a classroom teacher.  I didn’t know there was such a thing (but sure wish I had known)!  What I did have was a clipboard which I faithfully carried around the room as I conferred. The clipboard held my conferring notes and other record-keeping items.  However, the real reason the clipboard never left my hands was because it also held my cheat sheets.  Yep, that’s right, I had cheat sheets, and I highly recommend that you add some to your own Conferring Toolkits, too.

I had two types of cheat sheets.  The first type was a sheet to remind me how to conduct a conference.  I used this sheet often when I was just learning how to confer.  This sheet was a simple graphic to remind me to research, decide, teach, and link.  Unfortunately, I misplaced my original long ago, but I recreated it here as an example:

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge

Please note that my original was not this clean.  It had my handwritten notes all over it with prompts and reminders in case I felt stuck.  For instance, near the “Teach” box, I had probably written prompts for myself such as:

  • Many writers find…
  • One strategy I use when I want to…
  • Here’s one tip that I think will help you…

Currently, I am in a coaching cycle with a first grade teacher who is refining her conferring skills.  Our cheat sheet for how to conduct a conference comes from the work of Carl Anderson and can be seen here.

The second type of cheat sheet helped me find the teaching point in a conference.  This sheet varied with each writing unit.  For example, I might add the final checklist or rubric from a writing unit to to my Conferring Toolkit.  This will help remind me where we are going when I sit down next to a writer.  It will give me a list of things to be on the lookout for in his or her writing.

A sample rubric from a realistic fiction unit.  Click to enlarge.

A sample checklist from our realistic fiction unit. Click to enlarge.

I would also include a copy of the my grade level’s Common Core State Standards for writing, especially standards #1-3.  A quick glance at the standards might remind me of an important teaching point.

I have some tried and true cheat sheets which belong in any writing unit.  For example, here is a copy of page 28 from Carl Anderson’s book, How’s It Going? (2000).

From How's It Going by Carl Anderson, 2000.  Click to enlarge.

From How’s It Going by Carl Anderson, 2000. Click to enlarge.

I love this page because it addresses many of the common teaching points I often use in a conference, and it offers a strategy I could teach the writer.  I recently saw Carl Anderson speak at a conference, and he shared some questions he asks himself when he sits down next to writers:

  • Is the writer attempting to communicate something meaningful?
  • Is the writer attempting to structure their piece in a logical way?
  • Is the writer using details?
  • Can I hear the writer’s voice?
  • Did the writer use appropriate conventions?

I can imagine using Canva or Vanillapen to create a cheat sheet of these questions as well.

Once you’ve added a few cheat sheets to your own Conferring Toolkit, you will feel more confident and better prepared as you sit down to confer with young writers.

Our blog series continues tomorrow!  And don’t forget to join us Monday, May 11th at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time for a Twitter chat.  Use #TWTBlog to join the conversation.

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