Conference circles in action
The students work on different projects simultaneously to make our writing workshop run smoothly. Each piece of the workshop is modeled. For example, students keep hard-covered daybooks to write on their own daily. In addition, children read, and then reread books from an author’s perspective. Students walk around the room, work on their topic lists, read other's writing, and freewrite when they get stuck, as all authors do.
While reading or listening to others, they collect favorite “golden lines” and record them in their notebooks. (Golden lines are words or phrases we want to remember. Collecting golden lines has become a part of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Writing Project’s heritage, first introduced to me by Bob Tierney.)
Even though the seed of an idea often comes from the daybook, the children develop their pieces over several drafts that they keep in writing folders. They keep a show portfolio of finished pieces to share when visitors ask to see their writing. To broaden their vocabulary, students select words to discuss at our word time once a week. They choose five spelling words to study, as well.
In each writing unit, students go public with at least one piece. No one publishes unless they come to a fluid conference circle. If they need help or if they finish a draft, they come to the circle to share and get revision tips.
Fellow students can challenge teacher
Students learn to help one another by seeing competent models. I am able to give individual attention while the other children look on and help me. In fact, when using traditional conferences, one child and I might just disagree and there are no other writers to ask for advice. But with fluid conference circles, we can engage in a lively conversation about whether a story is focused or not, for instance, and get several opinions. By watching and practicing conferencing techniques under the watchful eye of a coach, all students become more sophisticated writers and conferrers over time.
Fluid conference circles work as prewriting conference circles as well as revision circles. Even if students don’t have something written, they are welcome. When children are totally at a loss for what to write, it helps to just sit around with other students and listen to their writing ideas. Whether another child shares an argument for convincing a parent to let her stay up later at night or a story about an accident, the telling usually triggers a topic for the student who came to circle to find some thing about which to write. Or, sometimes we sit in circles and just listen to a reluctant or a stuck writer who has nothing on paper. The child tells us a story or his ideas for an essay. From the telling of the story, we compliment, ask questions, give suggestions and offer encouragement. The unenthusiastic writer sees the positive reaction and quickly becomes ready to write.
Individual conferences are helpful
I’m still able to conference with children who need me individually.On any given day, I can choose to use a traditional writing conference instead of a fluid one.In fact, when I see that a child’s paper will take extensive time, I schedule an individual time rather than making everyone listen in. I invite that child to help give feedback in the conference circle or write other projects while waiting for me.
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