Last week, Ari, my two-year-old son, climbed into his toy box. While his little legs were agile enough to get inside, he was unable to figure out how to climb out. Isabelle, my eight-year-old daughter, could’ve lifted him out of the box. Instead, without any prompting from me, she climbed into the toy box, held his hands, and provided Ari with step-by-step directions for climbing out of the box. When the verbal directions didn’t help, she showed him what to do. She used words to explain how she was moving one leg over the side of the box, then holding onto the frame with her hands, and finally, turning her body to get her other leg out of the box. I stood back — amazed — when Ari tried to follow her instructions.
Without knowing it, Isabelle provided Ari with step-by-step coaching to help him do something on his own. As he tried to climb out of the box, she stayed nearby, but never grabbed any part of his body to help him. She let him go through the motions of getting out of the toy box on his own.
Many of us are faced with kids who don’t know what to do after the minilesson. There are striving writers who need help because they are lost or over-thinking kids who understand, but don’t have the confidence to execute something on their own. Both of these kinds of students can be supported with a coaching conference.
Here’s are the basics to get you started with a coaching conference:
As Lynne Dorfman and I state in our forthcoming book, Welcome to Writing Workshop, “You can think of coaching conferences like a coach calling to the players while a game is in progress. You’re instructing the student with a writing strategy, by whispering lean and succinct prompts, while engaging the child as he tries the strategy. Like the football coach who helps players from the sidelines, whisper-in to the writer rather than taking control of the writing” (2019, 101).
It’s been more than a week since Ari climbed into his toy box and needed coaching to climb out of it. He’s still climbing into it, but at least he knows how to get out — independently — thanks to some good coaching from his big sister.
*** A note about the tip in the image: I heard the quote about the person holding the pen is doing the thinking work years ago at Teachers College. Regretfully, I do not know who said it. ***
Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.