Parent conference week is a fast-paced week, filled with new learning and a different kind of teaching. I have participated in hundreds of parent conferences; yet I continue to struggle with just how to best present student writing to parents.
I want parents to see the developing skills the way I see them. I want parents to understand the decisions the writer has made. When I look at student writing, I see the lessons behind the writing, the approximations of craft techniques, and what writers know about words and how they look. I hear what students know about how stories sound and what they know about how writing comes together on the page. I understand the student’s excitement as they recall the events of the story, the doubts they have in wondering if this a story and how they will write the story? I see the feelings of the story on the student’s face and in their body posture. I see and hear all this because I sit beside the writers as they work, and I guide their development as a writer through our lessons.
While I can’t be sure what parents see when they look at a student’s writing, I know it is different from what I see. The questions parents often ask are about the aesthetics of the writing; paper type, lines or no lines, handwriting, reversals and clarity of illustrations. We can’t possibly view the piece with the same lens, parents aren’t in the classroom for our lessons, and they aren’t writing teachers. Guiding parent understanding is my responsibility. I need to teach the parents to look at writing as writer in our class.
Through My Eyes
We come together in the interest of supporting and celebrating the student, it’s important to help parents see the work of their child on a deeper level.I want the parents to understand:
- the lessons that have transpired
- my expectations
- the natural development of a writer
- the individuality of a writer’s process
- the importance of freedom in writing
- the importance of looking at each piece of writing through the intention of the writer
- acceptance of where the writer is in their development
Out of the Mouth of Babes
So this year, I tried something new. To help parents understand the author and all the work behind what they see I enlisted Evernote’s audio recording option to record writing conferences. As I sat beside the writers, I asked them to look at their work as a whole and reflect on the following;
- What have you learned as a writer?
- How does the craft technique support your story?
- What plans do you have for your writing?
- Tell me about your story.
- How do you feel about writing?
- Is there anything else you’d like to tell me?
New Perspectives, New Practices
While sharing the recording with the families, they were able to step inside our workshop and see their student in a more mature way. We listened together as their child shared their reflections. Parents were often overwhelmed at the maturity of their students as they talked about their work as writers. These recordings allowed the parents to hear the reflective process of their student and refine their perspective on student writing.
After conference week, I choose to continue using the recording feature in Evernote. I pause to jot just a few keywords at the end of our conversation to remind me of the of the work we did together and next steps in writing. In using the recording feature we are looking at each other, I can read the expressions and body language which allows us to connect on a deeper level. Students are no longer distracted by my typing or writing on the iPad with a stylus during our conference. We are simply two writers having a conversation.