Writing workshop allows students to practice specific writing skills, to peer edit, and to have conferences with students. I asked Laura to share some tips and on conferring with students and some common pitfalls. Here are ten great tips and a few pitfalls that came from our conversation:
Choose One Topic: Zoom in on one strategy such as inferring,finding themes, determining important details, or showing how text features connect to main ideas.
Prepare & Succeed: Reflect on what you plan to discuss and think of more than one possible scaffold to try. Having multiple scaffolds helps because if one doesn’t work, you have another at your fingertips.
Accentuate the Positive: Start by pointing out what the student has done well. It could be something you recently observed or the effort the student puts into analyzing texts.
Allow for Student Response Time: When you ask a question to start the conversation, give the student time to think. The tendency is for teachers to fill the silence with talk and solutions. This doesn’t support students. Though your wait time might feel like an eternity, it isn’t. Resist the urge to talk.
Listen: Avoid interrupting a student. Listen carefully and jot down questions you have; ask these once the student has finished. Throughout the conference, use your knowledge of this student to make comments and ask questions that boost the student’s confidence and encourage him to talk.
Pose Questions: Review a mini-lesson or a think-aloud that relates to the conference’s topic by asking questions that jogs their memory. When you point students to a specific lesson, you shift the focus away from their own thinking, you can free them up to find a solution from the recalled lesson.
Model: Sometimes you’ll need to think-aloud to show the student how you apply a strategy to reading. The brief model you provide can refresh the student’s memory and build the confidence that enables the student to try practicing in front of you.
Negotiate Goals: Start by recapping the conference and then invite the student to set a goal that he or she can achieve in one to two weeks. If the student struggles with this task, suggest two goals and ask the student to choose one. Choice is always empowering!
Help Students Achieve Goals: Having a goal is the first step, but reaching that goal requires a plan. Help the student figure out what he or she has to do to reach the goal and write the plan on the conference form. Give a copy of the plan to the student to tape into his or her reader’s notebook.
Close With Positive Comments: Say something positive to the student at the end of the conference so the student leaves feeling that he or she improved and deepened his understanding of the conference’s topic. Start comments with I noticed…or I like the way….
Avoid these pitfalls when you confer with students:
The teacher does most of the talking.
There are too many topics being covered; this can confuse students.
The conference takes more than five minutes.
The teacher makes the decisions and sets goals for the student.
Check out Laura Robb’s book, The Intervention ToolKit (Shell, 2016) for more on scaffolds, conferences, and interventions.