A few ideas for conferring

The end of the year is a time for reflection, for sure, and we’ve been reading some great posts about looking back and planning forward. Lanny’s post that he wrote just last week has some amazing ideas for categories of reflection. Kathleen recently shared some of her goals as a writing teacher with the year winding down.

Conferring always seems to be at the forefront when I talk to teachers in schools. How can I get better at this? What do I teach them? What’s the rest of the class doing?Have a few clear phrases you use. Here are some that seem to always work their way into my conferences with students:

  1. Adopt a few phrases and use them regularly. Even if students anticipate what you’re going to say because they know your go-to phrases, that’s okay! Here are a few I find myself using over and over:
  • The word COULD. I highly recomment incorporating the word COULD into your vocabulary and using it a lot. Really. You don’t even have to wait until next year. You COULD start now.
  • Consider starting a conference with “How’s it going?” You can learn a lot from students about what how they understand the process of writing and the expectations they have for themselves when they address that question. Sometimes, what they don’t say can tell you as much as what they do say. My hope is always that they are able to say something about what they’re working on, and if they can’t that might be the first place to begin with a teaching point.
  • Another great couple of phrases to have in your language toolkit is “What are you working on?” or “What are your goals as a writer for today?” These lines help focus both your work as mentor and their work as learner. While I think writers need to be chasing a lot of rabbits, and the phrase “If you chase two rabbits, you’re likely to catch neither one” doesn’t really apply to the work of writing (this may be another post soon), we do need to focus our instruction when we sit down to confer with a student, and this phrase helps to hone in on a goal, on teaching point.

2. Speaking of focusing in on one goal and staying focused, consider trying out conference cards. I carry these in my coaching bag, and I am forever making more.IMG_2278Here is a template that you are welcome to use or tweak.

These cards are important because they:

  • remind me to always give a compliment, something I used to sometimes forget.
  • Keep me focused on the one teaching point for the conference.
  • Provide an artifact and even a bit of accountability for the student when I leave.


3. Teach into the role of students and your role as teacher during a conference

  • This is a great activity for an inquiry lesson where you can show a good conference–I’m providing the links of some that I like, but you’re welcome to use your own or a different one you admire–and make a t-chart with students about what they notice the teacher doing and what they notice the student doing.

4.  Speaking of videos, consider having someone video you doing a conference NOW. Yes, in June (or whenever you are reading this post!). That way, you can use your own conference to teach students–current ones or future ones–  about what they should expect from you when you pull up next to them to talk about their work as writers.

Potentially, one of the most impactful opportunities we have for making a lasting difference on our students as writers is when we pull up next to them and confer with them. It’s SO worth spending some time reflecting, setting goals, and developing tools and strategies for the conferring work we do as teachers.