A fluid writing conference is complex to explain but easy to manage. If you stay with me to the core, you will have a visual of how fluid conferences work. Better yet, when you finish, you will have already worked out a hybrid in your own mind.
Sane writing conferences
If you’re like me, you’re exhausted by the very idea of conferencing with every student in your classroom. We know that we have to talk to young writers if they are to improve, but how do we find the time?
That’s why I invented a new way of conferring I call the fluid writing conference.
It’s complex to explain but easy to manage. The teacher is in the conference circle with the writer and 3-4 other students. But there’s a difference: students come and go as needed. The circles are never the same. The teacher confers with one child while modeling how to talk effectively about writing for the others. Everyone gets involved in finding the good and the lapses in the writing and eventually – and this is the great part - the budding authors write with that audience in mind. Before you know it, everyone is talking about writing and how to make pieces better.
Intrigued? Like an onion, it has many layers so it will take me quite a few pages to peel off each one to examine it closely for you. If you stay with me to the core, you will have a visual of just how fluid conferences work. Better yet, when you finish reading, you will have already worked out a hybrid in your own mind.
Funny. That’s how the conferences work for students. Read on.
Outside Layer: The History
Writing conferences simply overwhelmed me. I tried to talk with every student once a week, but that left no time for any other writing instruction. My students had similar writing problems so I found myself saying the same thing over and over. If I pulled one child to a corner of the room to conference, others stopped writing and watched. Plus, I tried to teach too much in each conference. Some students needed 40-minute conferences, not the one-minute power conferences I was taught to use. As hard as I tried not to, I’d reach the end of the week and find I’d missed quite a few children. I knew conferences were the boost my children needed, but I could not manage them.
I tried grouping children to talk with one another, but that posed problems as well. Children didn’t necessarily know how to help one another. They often suggested adding ideas that made the writing worse.
I witnessed students advising others to take out what I thought was the best part of the paper. Sometimes, my more able writers lost patience with their classmates who struggled with writing. Some children couldn’t even read their own writing aloud. Students lost their papers.
Some were absent on writing group day. I had discovered firsthand what Donald Murray wrote: “One myth that persists is that revision will improve your writing. Not always so. You can’t change words around and get the ideas right… So revision is far more than surface changes…Revision involves some very conscious strategies; it involves a process just like coming up with an idea and writing about it does.” (2003)
I knew my students could eventually manage some very-conscious revision in writing groups, but they needed an intermediary step. I had to teach them how to talk to one another, and how to talk about writing in a way that would improve it.
Each writing group needed a teacher. I realized they needed ME.
NEXT: The design - Teacher starts at the center