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Why Confer?

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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.



Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

9 thoughts on “Why Confer? Leave a comment

  1. I also love to establish my relationship with my students early in the school year by pointing out something positive and specific that I notice about their writing. I keep my comments focused on the overall piece for the first few submissions. I don’t usually make any suggestions or recommendations for revision until about the fourth or fifth writing assignment (which really doesn’t take too long to get to since we write a lot in the few weeks of school as a way to get to know each other). We then meet in various writing groups and also one on one. By this time, they’ve had the opportunity to share their writing with other students and it becomes clear that I am not the only audience. One challenge I face with conferring with students is the time factor. As hard as I try to build it in, there never seems to be enough time. One of the simplest ways I’ve adjusted to not having enough class time to confer (that my students really appreciate) is doing so through the comment feature on a google docs. It doesn’t replace a f2f conversation, but it definitely helps to keep the conversation going.


    • One thing I suggest to teachers, when it comes to not having enough time, is to meet with kids every other week for a conference and to meet with them weekly for a small-group strategy lesson. Small group work is highly individualized so it still allows teachers to meet with kids in a more personal way, even if it’s not one-to-one. (I have taught as many as 32 kids so I understand that the struggle to confer with everyone in a given week is real!)


  2. I often wonder if one cause of fear of conferring is the fact that few teachers have ever experienced a writing conference so they literally fear giving poor or bad advice. The only wrong conference is “NO conference” and I don’t remember the source for that quote.

    This year’s #TCRWP emphasis on the writing process and revision across the day has increased my understanding of where revision really fits – EVERYWHERE! And so does conferencing. Having more “process pieces” as a part of my toolkit will make this easier!!!


  3. I’ve been thinking a lot about why conferring feels so hard for me. I think part of the problem is that many students just don’t understand revision so they feel like what they put down on their paper is the finished product. When a student has a blank paper, I feel like I know how to help him/her find ways to get going in a conference, but if I pull up next to a student who “finished” the one and only draft, it feels tricky to offer ways to revise when the student sees no problem with what is there. Anyone else ever experience this, too? Stacey, you shared powerful quotes here from amazing educators I’ve been happy to have conversations with via our Voxer group. If anyone new wants to join, feel free to send me a message and I can add you! My Voxer name is ksokol167.


    • I start off by telling them something great I notice about their piece, then I jump in and enthusiastically say something like, “Oh my gosh, this would be a perfect piece for you to try out (X, Y, or Z) that we learned how to do last week. Why don’t you try that and see how it sounds. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to keep it. I’ll come back and see how it went before we share.” I find almost all of my 2nd graders will “keep” their revision once they put the work into it. They also know I’ll probably make them famous (Yes, I stole that from Carl Anderson) and have them share their revision during share time.


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