Why Confer?

C letter O letter N letter F letter E letter R

Several months ago, Kathleen started a Voxer group called Educators as Writers, which was an outgrowth of her January 2016 blog post, “Should Educators Be Writers?” One of the many things we’ve discussed in this Voxer group, which is still active, is how to make conferring meaningful. After all, I’ve found that conferring is the part of writing workshop that most teachers are apprehensive about.

While we’ve written a lot about conferring here on Two Writing Teachers through the years, I wanted to invite some educators from the Voxer group to share their thoughts about conferring in this forum. If one of your goals for the 2016-17 school year is to become stronger at conferring, then I hope their joy-filled thoughts on conferring will inspire you.

“Conferences not only allow teachers to give timely feedback but also build strong relationships with each writer. As writing conversations occur,  the students begin to realize the teacher isn’t just judging their work but engaging in a writing partnership. When fear of judgment is eliminated, students start taking writing risks, talking openly about their process, and craving writing conversations. Conferences allow students to grow organically as writers. Teachers have the privilege to come along side them as a guide and mentor while students keep the ownership of their work.” —Reidun Bures, seventh-grade teacher, Oregon School District (Wisconsin)

“Conferring is an integral component of facilitating a workshop classroom. It is the policy of my district, Katy ISD, that requires this model implemented in each of its elementary classrooms.   As a newcomer to a workshop model, I quickly learned that this would be the greatest gift to my scholars and myself.  When you’re hired by a district, you must abide by their policy.  You cannot dip your toe into the waters, but must fully emerge yourself.  Conferring can be intimidating for any teacher, but in my opinion it is the best tool to grow writers and readers of any level.” –Terrie DeHaan, fourth-grade teacher, Katy ISD (Texas)

“Conferring with students is an essential part of my daily routine. I used to be overwhelmed by doing it perfectly and that would stop me. Now, I see it as an opportunity to make connections with my students. Spending a few minutes talking about a piece of writing or about reading makes my teaching more impactful, but more importantly, it leaves an impression. We remember our conversations. We share. They talk. I listen. We share. Conferring is necessary for a successful classroom.” –Michelle Haseltine, Middle School Language Arts Teacher, Loudoun County Public Schools (Virginia)

“To confer means to bestow upon, to gift. We might think of conferring as bestowing a gift upon a student. Think about the most meaningful and memorable gifts you have received. They fit in your pocket, the palm of your hand, and in your heart. The smallest gifts are the best ones, just as teaching small is most important. If we were to think of giving our students small gifts in our conferring then we, as teachers, will not feel as overwhelmed trying to ‘fix’ our students’ writing. ” –Dana Kramaroff,  K-6 Instructional Coach, Boyertown Area School District (Pennsylvania)

“Table conferences are one way to maximize student conferring time and build teacher confidence for student conferences.  Keep it simple. Look at student data.  Do 2 or 3 students need the same “talk”?  Meet briefly with them together.  (And if someone else leans in to “listen”, please let them!) Check to see if your “tip” matches their own student goal!” – Fran McVeigh, Literacy Consultant, Great Prairie AEA (Iowa)

“As a teacher who writes I feel like I am more aware in conferences because I can relate to the struggles of writing. I know that there is usually more than one option for what I can coach the writer on during our conference and that anything that moves the writer along is a good thing. As the students see me writing and I see them writing (and we even write collaboratively sometimes) we have a mutual respect, trust, and a community. I cannot wait to see this take off in the SOLSC.” –Erika Victor, 3rd grade, International School of Kuala Lumpur

Last September, I wrote a piece called “Get REALLY Good at Conferring.” It contained seven tips to help you become a stronger conferrer. While you can read that piece in its entirety, I wanted to stress two of my seven points from that post to close this post.

  • Read professional texts. Most likely you won’t be working with students this summer. While you’re enjoying your well-deserved time off, remember there are many books out there that will help you become stronger with conferring. Here are several titles you should check out:
  • Write. Seeing as conferring is the working talk of writers, you’ll become more comfortable talking with kids about writing if you’re a writer yourself. Write a lot this summer! Start small. Write for just ten minutes a day in a notebook and see where it takes you.