Every teacher I know struggles at least a little with conferences. Last Sunday I posted about the struggles I usually have with writing conferences. Efficiency isn’t one of them, though I know a lot of teachers struggle with this. This Sunday I want to post the tips that have worked for me to get my conferences more efficient…

  1. Make your research str-e-e-e-e-tch. When you sit down next a student, be prepared to try to find out (and write down!) a LOT of possible teaching points for this writer. Not just one. (I usually try to look for around 4.) That way, the next time you approach the writer, your research is even faster, since chances are they need the same teaching points they needed last week. 😉

    Of course, your notetaking system has to be amenable jotting all this down… Some of the tiny “box” systems I see teachers using aren’t so great for collecting lots of information in one conference. I prefer to use something that looks like this:

Writing Conference Notetaking Form

Some days I write a little in my conferences and some days a lot, so this sheet allows for that. I just draw a line under each day’s conference… (This sheet also helps me be efficient because it has my research questions and a list of possible teaching points at the top!)

2. Don’t read the whole piece of writing. I know, you really WANT to (maybe!). And, Lord knows, the student wants you to! But if you’re trying to get to 25 kids in a week, how could you read the entire piece, respond, and teach in 5 minutes (with the exception of most kindergarten and first grade writers)? If you really feel like you need to do this, then pre-plan your conferences and read the whole thing the day before. (Wow, you’re super organized!) If not, then you have to find a part that would benefit most from a one-on-one conversation. Usually I find that part by asking these questions during the “Research” phase of the conference:

    • How’s your writing going? Has it been easy or hard? Tell me about it… Show me where it’s been easy or hard for you…
    • What have you been trying to make your writing really strong (or exciting or …)? Show me where you tried that…
    • What were you planning to do next (after you finish this page)? Do you want some help with that?
    • Tell me more about what you did here on this page… (Point to something in their pics or words)

      3. Come prepared! Either travel with a list of possible teaching points based on your Unit of Study or travel with a mentor text that you’ve marked up with post-its of things writers could try. (Or both!) This will help you make your point quickly and clearly so the writer can have an opportunity to try with your coaching before the five minutes is up…

You can do it! Five-minute conferences are possible once you get used to the pacing of them (1-2 minutes for asking research questions, a minute to give a thoughtful compliment, 2-3 minutes to show something new the writer could try). What do you think? Would these tips work for you? Do you have any others I should add to my toolbox?

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