If someone asked me what my favorite part of Writer’s Workshop is, I would tell them it is conferring with my students. I love talking to my students about their writing. We laugh and cry together as their stories unfold. My writers deserve this uninterrupted time to be heard. It is my job to supply honest feedback and help them develop their craft. How’s It Going? A Practical Guide to Conferring with Student Writers by Carl Anderson is my favorite resource on conferring. It is filled with Post It notes and has a permanent place on my desk.
Did I mention I love talking to my students about their writing? This can be a problem when you have 23 students and conferences in workshop should average about 2-7 minutes. I am always looking for ways to improve the conferring process without sacrificing the quality of the time spent with an individual writer or group of writers. One idea that greatly improved the environment of our workshop was the implementation of Student PLNs. Writers now turn to someone in their own Personal Learning Network for feedback while I am conferring with other students.
I found that Student PLNs helped students continue to move forward with their writing while they waited, but it did not help me shorten my conferences. I realized my conferences were taking extra time because I spent at least 5 minutes finding out what the piece was about and what skill they wanted to focus on. I thought if I knew this ahead of time, our time together could be spent developing their craft. We are fortunate to have 1:1 Chromebooks, so I turned to Google Forms. My students and I already use Google Forms for surveys, flipped lessons, scripts, and submitting links for Web 2.0 projects. I created a Pre-Conference Interview Form based on the Student Checklists in the Units of Study.
My students completed the form using their Chromebook, Student Checklist and their drafts. The following day I was able to start conferring with my updated conferring toolkit which included my student responses from the Pre-Conference Interview Form. This additional information proved to be not only a timesaver, but an additional connection with my students. I would start the conference with something they shared in the form, and they would smile wide, knowing they had already been heard and the conference had just begun.