Writing Conferences

By August 27, 2017Blog

This will be my last Blog – I leave for Italy today!

I have no idea where the last few weeks of this term have gone, but I do know, that as I continue to work in classrooms with kids, and debrief with teachers, that I am learning so much!

Writing Conferences

There is no doubt that to effectively confer with kids, we need to build our skills and show real grit as a teacher. It takes time to build our confidence, and it takes time for students to know what is expected of them. We all need lots of practice!

My conferences were a nightmare in the 80’s. I would spend 20 minutes with just one student, while the rest were rolling around on the carpet, bored out of their brain!

It was this quote below, from The Art of Teaching Writing by Lucy McCormick Calkins, that whacked me across the head and set me on a new pathway –

I realized that my conferences were ineffective because I was trying to fix up their writing instead of trying to help kids to help themselves! My conferences were a waste of time because kids were dependent on me.

Below is a handout I have created to help teachers. It provides a scaffold for teachers in preparing and conducting a conference and is linked to the Conference Hierarchy that I refer to in my seminars on Writing. My writing conferences are now 10mins – 15mins maximum.


Hope it helps! Off to finish packing!!!

A Scaffold to Help with Writing Conferences!

  • linked to Conference Hierarchy


Preparing for conference


Read student Writing – Hunt for the Good!

  • It may be a lively sentence, the use of an exclamation mark, knowledge of topic and so on.


Determine what the focus will be for each individual in the conference

  • the Conference Hierarchy helps us stay focused so we don’t try and fix everything!
  • Whole Text Level – Is it message or structure? Sentence Level – how can sentences improve – combine; different starters? Proofreading Level – What resources can student access?
  • at each level of Conference Hierarchy, you are focusing on the strategies they have been taught.


Consider strategies or questions to ask the student/ group, to highlight the focus.

  • Keep in mind the Writer and what will help them help themselves


Consider future focus for this writer – how can they take next steps?


During Conference


Teacher focuses on the first student who explains purpose of their writing


The teacher explains stage of writing process student is at, to help group focus eg. If Whole Text Level then message and structure


Teacher affirms what student is doing well. May ask student to read a sentence or section of text aloud. Ask what do we notice? What do we like?


Teacher provides focus for Writer

  • At Whole Text Level – If message unclear, ask student “Can you explain your thinking?”
  • If the message can be strengthened, ask the student to read aloud sentence/s and then teacher asks the group, “ Any questions? What might make the message stronger? What strategies can we use to include information?”
  • If ideas out of order, read to student or outline and discuss strategies with the group. Eg. Read an exemplar, strategies to reorder, visual scaffold
  • At Sentence Level – If sentences are similar, draw on what you have taught them to vary the pattern.
  • At Proofreading Level – What can the student use to help themselves? What resources are available? What have you taught them?


Teacher discusses next purpose for writing with student –

  • Does student need to stick with the same purpose so they can practice and bed down a particular text type?
  • Does student need to be challenged as a writer? (write from another perspective; research and report or explain an event)
  • Will a scaffold or visual or exemplar support writer for next piece?

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