Why Strategic Writing Conferences?
Many teachers have discovered that one of the most powerful ways to teach students to be better writers—if not the most powerful way&mdashis to sit beside them and confer with them as they write. These one-to-one conversations, commonly called "writing conferences," are a focused, effective method for teaching writing. They allow educators to teach to students' individual needs as writers and are one of the best ways to differentiate writing instruction. Students, in turn, respond well to conferences because the instruction is personalized—and personal.
However, deciding what to teach and how to best teach it in a conference can be challenging. If you're like many teachers, you're sometimes stumped. When you confer, you may be able to identify an area of need, such as choosing topics wisely, organizing writing effectively, using punctuation skillfully, but you're not always sure which strategy or craft technique to teach to address it. Sometimes, even when you know exactly what strategy to teach, you're not confident that you can teach it so that a student will grasp and be able to use it.
Strategic Writing Conferences will help you know what and how to teach student writers when you confer with them. It is in part a diagnostic guide, offering descriptions of more than one hundred common areas of need in grades 3–6. Some of these areas are typical of students who are beginning writers, such as how to find topics, write a focused draft, or use punctuation consistently, and some pertain to students who are more advanced writers, such as how to write for audiences, make plans for revising, or use punctuation to emphasize part of a sentence.
For each area of need, Strategic Writing Conferences provides corresponding lessons. Each one names the writing strategy or craft technique for the student, defines what it is and why it's important, and explains how the student can use it in his writing. All the conferences have been field tested for many years with students in classrooms across the United States—not only by me, but by colleagues and teachers with whom I have worked. Adding the Strategic Writing Conferences lessons to your teaching repertoire will help you address your own students' individual areas of need as writers.
Using the Three Conference Books
The 100 conferences in Strategic Writing Conferences are organized around the writing process-prewriting, drafting, revising. There are several scenarios in which Book 1: Topics, Book 2: Drafts, and Book 3: Finished Projects will be invaluable to you.
Scenario 1. You are reading a student's writer's notebook or draft and identify an area of need to address in a writing conference. You consult Strategic Writing Conferences to prepare what you will teach in this conference. If you notice that several students have the same area of need, you can turn a Strategic Writing Conference into a small group lesson.
In all three of these scenarios, you identify the student's area of need first, then find a corresponding conference. In this way, Strategic Writing Conferences differs from units of study in writing—lessons done sequentially, in the order suggested by the author. Strategic Writing Conferences is not sequential. In fact, there is no correct order for the conferences. As long as you are selecting conferences that meet needs you've identified, you're using the resources wisely.
Scenario 2. You are in the midst of a writing conference and identify a student's area of need. By consulting the Diagnostic Guides (see page X-Y) and then the corresponding conference for that need on the spot—in the midst of the conference—you can teach an appropriate writing strategy immediately.
Scenario 3. You realize that one of your writing conferences didn't get through to a student. You consult Strategic Writing Conferences for another way to teach the concept. You meet again with the student and try a new approach.
Carl's "Classic Twenty-Five" Conferences
Twenty-five of the Strategic Writing conferences are especially important to add to your teaching repertoire. These select conferences address needs that a majority of students have as writers, especially early in the school year when they begin writing. It is likely that you will have these conferences again and again with students during the first few months of school.
Many of these "classic" conferences teach strategies for navigating the stages of the writing process—finding topics, selecting a seed topic, planning a piece, and revising and editing a draft. These strategies are essential for students to learn in order to function independently as writers in your classroom. Some of the conferences teach the basic qualities of effective writing. They help students focus on meaning and write details, improving their current writing project as well as future ones. Still other conferences in this select group of twenty-five teach students to identify an audience, such as specific classmates, so that they write with the reader in mind, instead of just going through the motions of writing.
Many of the "classic" conferences help students write in narrative genres. Since many writing teachers begin the school year with one or more units of study focused on narrative genres, these "classic" conferences are especially useful at this time.
In addition, many of the "classic" conferences are "firsts." They are the first in a group of conferences that address a particular area of need. For example, Conference 14, "Crafting a Lead by Starting with an Important Scene" is the first of four conferences in Book 2: Topics to teach students to write narrative leads. Once you learn how to conduct this classic conference, you can add the others to your repertoire. This helps you more successfully differentiate your instruction.
Finally, many of the classic conferences end with suggestions to adjust them for students who are writing nonfiction (see "Modifications for Nonfiction Genres" at the end of the conferences). With the classic conferences in your repertoire, learning how to teach these nonfiction conferences won't feel completely new; rather, you'll find that you are learning how to simply adjust a conference to make it work with nonfiction.
As you begin to use Strategic Writing Conferences, review the classic conferences first. The classic conferences are listed in the table below. They are also marked in the Diagnostic Guide and the tables of contents of each conference book so that you can refer to them easily. With the classic conferences as part of your teaching repertoire, you are equipped to teach students the fundamentals of writing right from the start.
Carl's "Classic Twenty-Five" Conferences
(Conference # / Conference Title)
Finding a Topic by Making a List
Finding a Topic by Brainstorming Writing Territories
Finding a Topic by "Mining" a Writing Territory
Exploring a Topic by "Unpacking" One Moment
Exploring a Topic by Adding Yourself
Selecting a Topic by Considering Interest, Audience, or Occasion
Developing a Topic by Reflecting on its Significance
Writing with Classmates as an Audience
Getting Started by Making a Basic Plan
Getting Started by Focusing a Bed-to-Bed Story
Crafting a Lead by Starting with an Important Scene
Crafting a Scene with Precise Details: Dialogue, Thoughts, and Actions
Crafting a Draft by Using Exact Words
Crafting a Draft by Using Time Transitions
Crafting an Ending by Writing a Scene That's Integral to the Story
Revising by Adding Text
Revising Using Blank Pages, Sticky Notes, "Spider Legs," and "Add Ons"
Revising by Focusing an "All About" Story
Revising by Focusing on Important Scenes
Revising by Using Feedback from a Partner
Editing by Reading Aloud
Editing by Using Feedback from a Partner
Editing by Using a Checklist
Editing by Listening for Pauses
Editing by Creating Paragraphs