The Power of Silence in Conferring

As the close of our writing workshop neared, I paused.  I felt such pride as I looked out at my growing first graders sprawled across the room. Some in scoop chairs on the floor, some laying out on the carpet, some standing at counters, and some seated at tables.  Each one, head down and busy writing.  Something told me to let them go, let them write just a bit longer.  As I watched, I felt drawn to a conference with just one last writer.

I walked over and sat down beside a confident writer for one last conference.  I was especially interested to see how he was carrying out our lesson focus in his writing.  As I looked down at his screen, I noticed he had only a few lines of text.  I was a bit surprised, he’s a consistent writer, I can count on him to push the lesson into workshop writing.  I began our conference casually, “Hey buddy, tell me about your writing.”  I didn’t expect what came next.

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Mrs. Frazier, I just don’t get where we are supposed to put precise details in our stories. I know what they are and I know they make writing fun for the reader but where do they go?

I took a deep breath and paused a long pregnant pause.  My next words needed to be just right.  I didn’t want to say, “Put them there!” I know all too well I need to teach the writer, not the writing.  I wanted my words to support his future writing, not just this piece.  My pause bought me just the right amount of time.  The next person that spoke wasn’t me.

I am writing about my basketball game and then going to my grandma’s house.

He put his iPad down and looked up at me, then looked away.

It was a rough game.  I had the biggest kid on me the WHOLE game, and I kept getting the ball stolen because I am the smallest one on the team.  Then, I fell because he was so close to me.

My writer found his details. He didn’t need me to say a word.  I smiled at him and promised him an extra minute to add his thinking and walked away.

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Sometimes the most powerful thing we can say is in our silence.