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A Teacher’s Guide to Short Yet Effective Writing Conferences

    a teacher's guide to short yet effective writing conferences

    Are you looking to make the most out of your student-teacher writing conferences?  In this post, I share my tips, tricks, and a step-by-step approach to providing valuable feedback to students using efficient and effective meetings.

    Raise your hand if you hate spending countless hours providing feedback on student essays only to see your hard work end up in the recycling bin. (Me!) It’s the worst, right? Yet, providing meaningful feedback to students is an essential part of our job in helping them grow as writers.

    Enter: Student-teacher writing conferences.

    While hosting individual writing conferences with your students is an excellent opportunity to provide meaningful feedback (and help you grade essays faster), it brings unique challenges for secondary ELA teachers managing 100+ students. The secret is learning to conduct short yet effective conferences in five minutes or less.

    Can you really get anything productive accomplished in five minutes? You sure can! To help, I’m outlining the steps and providing my best tips for hosting short yet effective writing conferences with your secondary students. Get ready to say goodbye to wasted red ink and time-consuming conferences, and hello to the benefits of brief but highly impactful interactions with your students!

    What Is a Student-Teacher Writing Conference?

    A student-teacher writing conference is a focused, one-on-one interaction where a teacher checks in with a student to discuss a piece of writing as part of the writing process. These conferences allow teachers to provide personalized feedback, address individual concerns, and guide students toward improvement in their writing skills.

    Why Are Student-Teacher Conferences Important?

    Writing conferences are a powerful tool for teachers to connect with students on a more personalized level and emphasize the writing process. Providing tangible feedback during the conference allows students to reflect on and incorporate real-time feedback before submitting their final draft. These conferences are an opportunity to ask clarifying questions, address misunderstandings, assess student understanding, and guide them toward improvement in their writing.

    However, these sessions go beyond teacher input, offering students a voice to express thoughts, concerns, and questions about their work. Writing conferences are opportunities for teachers to guide, support, and empower students to actively participate in their learning journey by allowing them to express their thoughts, concerns, and questions about their work.

    The Benefits

    If you’re still on the fence about bringing student-teacher conferences into your classroom, remember that they are an opportunity to:

    • Receive a snapshot of student understanding and ability.
    • Work with students on their writing in real-time.
    • Give students individualized feedback.
    • Build meaningful connections with students.
    • Increase student ownership over writing.
    • Reiterate the value of progress over perfection.
    • Provide valuable guidance toward improvement.

    What Is the Teacher’s Role During a Writing Conference?

    A teacher’s role during a writing conference is more than simply telling students everything they are doing “wrong.” Instead, your goal is to provide meaningful conversation and personalized instruction to inspire and guide students to become stronger writers.

    To make the most of this collaborative and effective learning opportunity, listen to students, ask intentional questions, celebrate student strengths, and offer targeted suggestions for improvement.

    Teacher Tip: Take Notes

    Take notes during each conference so you have a record of a student’s strengths, areas for growth, and goals for improvement. You can refer to these notes when grading the final products, giving you a baseline for student improvement. These notes also serve as a great resource when preparing for parent-teacher conferences.

    Steps for Conducting Short, Effective Writing Conferences:

    Providing impactful feedback in five minutes or less might seem like a long shot. With careful planning and a system in place, it is possible. After all, remember that student writing conferences are all about student learning and growth, not perfection. That means you don’t have to spend time reading through an entire essay, nor should you be highlighting every single mistake.

    Follow the steps below to save time and significantly impact student writing.

    1. Scan the writing

    Quickly review the student’s writing to gain a general understanding of its content and structure. As you read, look for the student’s strengths and areas for improvement as a writer, allowing you to focus on specific aspects during the conference.

    If you find this step takes too much time, start by having students submit their work beforehand to give you time to complete this step before the conferences. As you become more efficient in your scanning, you can rework this into your live conference structure.

    2. Start with a strength

    Secondary students often lack confidence in their writing, especially struggling and reluctant learners. Therefore, it’s essential to kick off each conference on a positive note.

    Before asking questions or discussing areas for improvement, start by acknowledging a particular strength in the student’s work. This sets a constructive tone, fosters positive rapport, and builds student confidence in their writing.

    3. Ask intentional questions.

    Follow your compliments with purposeful questions to bring students into the conversation. Engage students by posing purposeful questions about their writing, helping you identify where they are struggling, understand their thought process, and dig deeper into their writing.

    However, you must go beyond simple “yes or no” questions. Instead, asking more intentional open-ended questions will reveal where your students are struggling most so you can provide effective and efficient feedback and support.

    4. Provide targeted instruction

    Once you have an idea of where students are struggling, it’s time to work your teaching magic. However, I know how easy it is to get caught up in every single error you see or to point out every area for improvement. Just remember that providing focused feedback is the key to making the most of your one-on-one conferences.

    Offer specific, actionable instructions for improvement in one or two key skills or areas. Focusing on targeted feedback will feel far more manageable for students and help them understand precisely how they can make progress and what needs to be revised.

    5. Check for understanding

    After providing targeted instruction, ensure the student understands the feedback and steps they can take for improvement. Ensure comprehension by giving the student an opportunity to ask clarifying questions on your suggested revisions.

    This step is vital in supporting student success and making your conferences worthwhile. Establishing a sense of shared understanding will allow you and your students to be in alignment with their goals and actionable steps for growth.

    6. Establish a to-do

    Go beyond simple and abstract goal setting by establishing a targeted and tangible to-do item that your student can immediately incorporate into their work. Rather than walking away feeling defeated or overwhelmed, students will have a clearer sense of guidance as they continue working.

    Setting achievable goals or tasks for your students to work on will help them walk away with a sense of direction and empowerment. As a result, students will be able to take ownership of their writing process and the development of skills.

    Tips and Tricks for Efficient Writing Conferences

    In addition to following the steps outlined above, consider these tips and tricks for making the most of your writing conferences while still keeping them short and sweet.

    • Prepare your students: Let students know ahead of time when you will be holding writing conferences. Give them simple tasks to help prepare, allowing you to make the most use of your allotted time. Ask them to select a section of their writing, prepare questions, consider where they are struggling, etc.
    • Know your why: Establish the purpose of the conferences before conducting them with students. Whether addressing a specific writing skill, discussing general revisions, or providing overall feedback, having a defined goal will keep the conversation focused and productive.
    • Scan ahead of time (if needed): While I don’t typically recommend using conferences to review entire writing pieces (#timeconsuming), it does happen. Have your students submit their work beforehand to give you a head start on scanning their work and making note of one or two areas for improvement to discuss.
    • Refer to mentor texts and examples: Rather than just telling students what they could improve upon, show them a mentor text to give them more context. Seeing an example of what you want students to do will help make complex ideas and higher-level writing skills feel more concrete.

    More Ways to Make the Most of Writing Conferences

    • Skip the grammar–for now: Don’t waste time nitpicking students’ spelling and grammar. Instead, save this as a task for peer editing and self-revisions. Use conferences to dive into higher-level concepts or more complex skills like embedding quotes, transitioning between ideas, or finding and explaining supporting evidence.
    • Do it for the writer, not the writing: Having this mindset is a big help if you’re one to get caught up in all of the little mistakes in a piece of writing. Instead of attempting to fix all of the things, focus on the quality of your feedback and how it will help your student improve as a writer with this assignment and beyond.
    • Keep track of students’ struggles: Noting their areas for growth will allow you to see improvement (or lack thereof) over time. It might be time to review or reteach a topic if you notice any patterns emerging across many students.

    Making Writing Conferences Great Again

    If you’ve been dreading or skipping writing conferences altogether because they feel like a daunting and time-consuming task, I hope this post helped shift your perspective. Following the steps and strategies outlined above will help you maximize your time and make these student meetings more manageable, efficient, and impactful. Remember, the goal for feedback during conferences is quality, not quantity.

    However, don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t go perfectly your first (or second) time around. The more conferences you conduct, the more you will learn what works and what doesn’t. The most important thing is to give it a try and adjust from there.

    Planning your next writing workshop? Learn my best tips for tackling teaching narrative writing or argumentative essay writing! I also have posts about teaching textual evidence and making inferences.

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