A conference with a student does not have to be long to deliver a rich experience for the student. This example with Sallie, an 8th grade student, illustrates the difference between teaching writing skills with an encouragement mindset as opposed to a correction mindset. I am not correcting Sallie's writing. I am encouraging her to talk about it--to tell me what is going well, to tell me where she needs helps. Even the way she speaks about these skills tells me as much as what she points out.
When I ask Sallie what she has learned about herself as a writer, she reaches back to a positive memory from last year when she learned different strategies for writing leads. She remembers the specific possibilities for her leads. She even says, "I feel good." I love that. I love the positive feelings bubbling up for Sallie even as she talks about something that it has taken her time to develop.
Sallie identifies that leads were a weakness for her in 6th grade but that she improved as a 7th grade student. She acknowledges that it has been a process.
Notice that I ask Sallie to think about how her leads are even stronger this year--what makes them stronger. And even though Sallie struggles naming her writing moves, I step and give her the language for the moves she described.
I think of this as flipping the rubric. Clearly, by talking about leads we are discussing Organization. But instead of my hunting for errors and reminding Sallie of what she is doing wrong in isolated stages of writing, I am modeling a belief that Sallie will continue to grow as a writer and that my primary concern is Sallie and how she grows as a writer.
We end with a quick reflection on Sallie might do next. She tells me what she is ready for and why. She also tells me some decisions she has made to help her with her goals.
When I replay this conversation I get a good feeling about the attitude Sallie and I are sharing about writing. This sharing of a positive attitude means everything to me because I firmly believe that our attitude impacts each student's attitude.
If my attitude is that everyone can grow, then they each will adopt an everyone can grow attitude.
Flipping the rubric provides many opportunities for differentiated conversations, reflection, and goal setting. If you have questions about flipping your rubrics or using conferring as vehicle to flip your rubrics and classroom, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @_briank_.
When conferring, I am learning to let the student lead me to their areas of need through the natural course of conversation. I practice listening so that I might respond with a question that a) I am naturally curious about (this is a conversation after all) and b) will help them with their next move as a writer.
This conference with Kathryn revolved around her end of the marking period portfolio. One thing I want you to notice is that I deliberately do not get into correction or errors. We don't address the specific pieces of writing per se, but we discuss Kathryn as a writer--the writing is another portion of evidence to consider, but conferring is about helping writers grow forward, not feeling exposed or inadequate over something previously written.
Notice that Kathryn tells me "I like writing about my running" and that "it all comes to me easily"..."other stuff is kinda harder." This takes me to Mina Shaughnessy's work--her book Errors & Expectations in particular. Shaughnessy writes, "use modes encouraging a flow of words until the pen is an extension of the mind." I have that opportunity here with Kathryn.
While running is a area of interest (and not a mode) I try to help Kathryn feel encouraged to work her writing territories into a variety of modes. I point out that she is already blending modes as she writes about running. I want Kathryn to feel my appreciate for her joy and I want her to feel that her decisions have power in the classroom.
After establishing what is going well (and all writers need to hear that positive feedback), I try to find a path into what a student is going to do next. I hope to leave them with a goal or two. This does not always happen (and that is ok). Conferring through the student's agenda and needs now is a form of differentiation. Growth does not always happen on our watch, but every conference is an opportunity to continue to build trust within our writing communities.
As always, please feel welcome to share or comment on this work on Twitter, on the show's blog page, or on your own blogs. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter (@_briank_) or through email email@example.com.
A student shared that writing a book in 3rd grade was a big deal. The more I listened, the more I came to understand that it really was a big deal. Jordan tells me that she and a friend collaborated on a story outside of school. She worked on it for several years and then something happened.
And I hear this a lot from adolescents.
They stop writing.
Sometimes, adolescents stop writing because other activities interfere. Sometimes, writing in school becomes so rule-driven that children fall out of love. Most of my kids tell me that the end arrives somewhere around that 5th or 6th grade window.
They stop writing.
I imagine if we wedge enough TDAs, DQBs, correction, and Study Island down their throats students feel the possibilities slip away. We narrow the conditions of writing. We squeeze them out so much that they no longer feel as though they have anything to contribute on their own. So they stop.
They stop writing.
I offer this podcast as an opportunity to reflect about our classrooms. What role do the conditions of our classrooms play for our adolescents? I'm completely absorbed by what Jordan shares with me here. She and her friends were on the cusp of creating their own writing community.
That is, indeed, a very big deal.
When we confer with adolescents, much of the impact comes through the student naming his decisions, processes, and discoveries. Sometimes the main lesson from a five to six minute conference arises from one statement made by the student--something they say, something they understand about themselves, some admission that tells them their voice matters. Working with who a student is now is far more relevant than trying to work with who anyone else thinks that student can be tomorrow.
An adolescent's confidence is tied to their attitude about writing in addition to what they believe our attitude is about them as writers. This is key!
If we can help adolescents develop confidence in themselves as writers, comfort follows. Comfort matters because comfort means trust. They trust the writing community. They trust their writing partners. They trust me as a mentor. With comfort and trust, we can actually talk about the decisions they make as writers. We are not dwelling on error-free writing. We are treating students as writers.
In this podcast I ask Kendall about what kind of feedback she prefers. She says encouragement because "it makes me feel more confident about the writing"... Im not comfortable with my writing yet." This, to me, is the golden moment. For several minutes, Kendall and I are talking about an early draft that is a) true and b) matters to her. As we move through her decisions to the moment she read the draft aloud, we start here early transitions in Kendall's writing life.
This conference took place in January, and here Kendall is admitting that it is the first time she wrote with honesty, that she wrote wanting to evoke a reaction from an audience, that she wrote about a topic where she knows she will write some more someday.