Archive

Posts Tagged ‘mini-conferences’

Writer’s Workshop Mini-Conferences

With Writer’s Workshop, teachers typically organize a one-hour workshop so that at least half of the time is devoted to writing, peer conferences, and writer-teacher mini-conferences. Properly managed, the writer-teacher mini-conference can be a key ingredient to the success of developing writers.

Here are some tips to make the most out of Writer’s Workshop Mini-Conferences and some great attachments, links, and free downloads as well. Make sure to pass along this article to one of your favorite colleagues or your department.

Writer-Teacher Mini-Conference Procedures

  • Not every student needs to be seen every day. Use a Status of the Class chart to plan conferences in advance.
  • Walk the room to complete your planned mini-conferences and supervise student behavior. Briefly eavesdrop on any peer conferences as you circulate.
  • Make students responsible for completing the Status of the Class. Students can certainly x-off the box below their names on the Status of the Class chart after they complete their mini-conference. Some teachers use pocket charts labeled with the stages of the writing process (brainstorming, pre-writing, drafting, peer response, revision, editing, publishing) and students are responsible for placing name cards in the pocket that matches the stage where they are working that day.
  • Keep mini-conferences brief. More frequent conferences tend to work better than less frequent conferences, so shorter conference times mean that the teacher will be able to meet with students more often.
  • Establish a focus for your mini-conferences. Traditional Writer’s Workshop devotees favor a student-centered inquiry approach, asking thought-provoking questions such as What are you working on? Can you read me some of what you’ve got? How do you think your writing is going? Can you read me some of what you’ve got? How can I help? These are all fine, but I tend to be more directive, so I announce to the class at the beginning of Writer’s Workshop “I will be focusing my conferences on _________ today, so be prepared to discuss this focus and share a writing sample that reflects this focus in our conference.” The daily focus could be any step of the writing process or any of the 6 Traits of Writing. Often, I tie the focus of the mini-conference into the focus of a recent mini-lesson to get more bang for my teaching and coaching bucks.
  • Establish a system of accountability for your conferences. Let students know that you have high expectations of them. I award participation points for my mini-conferences.
  • Allot some of your mini-conference time each day for students to ask you questions and get your coaching feedback on issues of their own writing. During this time, I sit at my desk and students line up with their writing in hand. Tell your students that only three students can be in line at one time for a student-teacher writing conference. You want students to spend most of their time writing, not waiting in line. Sometimes having writing down the students’ names on the board or a “take a number” system is a good way to manage a conference order and keep the students on-task.
  • Some Writer’s Workshop teachers do not write on student papers; I do. To be efficient (and train students for higher education), I teach students the common editing marks. Download my set of Writing Posters (which include these editing marks), if you wish. I do suggest marking only a few mechanics (punctuation and capitalization) and spelling issues per visit.
  • Verbally explain any content, structure, or grammatical problems. If there are such errors, mark a ain front of the sentence and send the student back to revise.
  • Differentiate instruction. If the focus of your mini-conferences is using speaker tags and quotation marks in dialogue, and a dozen of your students need help, invite the group up to your whiteboard to teach these skills or assign targeted worksheets to be completed individually. Oftentimes, a class mini-lesson will not do the trick for every student, so group or individualized instruction certainly makes sense.
  • Use your school’s computer lab to complete mini-conferences. Computers are ideal for the social context of writing and work well with Writer’s Workshop mini-conferences. Have students submit their online for you and their peers to discuss. Submission options are numerous: Google Docs®, Turnitin®, Moodle Docs®, Viper®, Screencast®, a school network dropbox, or e-mail.
  1. Teachers can respond to their students’ writing during mini-conferences with text, hyperlinks, or audio files by using the comment bubbles feature of Microsoft Word®. For accountability, teachers can require their students to address each comment by using Microsoft Word® “Track Changes.” Students then re-submit revisions and edits for peer and/or teacher review. Just like real professional writers do with their editors!
  2. For teachers who want to be more prescriptive in their mini-conference comments, they can get an entire e-comments bank of 438 entries that cover all of the comments teachers would make if they just had the time. Each comment has a concise definition, explanation, and example. Teachers can download the author’s free The Pennington Manual of Style, which has the text of all 438 of the e-comments and a download link to insert all of the 438 e-comments into the Autocorrects function in Microsoft Word®. Inserting a comment on the student’s word document like the one in the example is simple. Just type an alphanumeric code, such as M1, and the comment magically appears!

The author of this article provides two curricular writing resources aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Both are appropriate to help teachers differentiate writing instruction for upper elementary, middle school, and high school students.

The first, Teaching Essay Strategies, includes 42 essay strategy worksheets (perfect for mini-lessons) corresponding to the Common Core Writing Standards, the e-comment bank of 438 prescriptive writing responses with an link to insert into Microsoft Word® for easy e-grading, 8 on-demand writing fluencies, 8 writing process essays (4 Common Core Standard informative/explanatory and 4 Common Core Standard persuasive), 64 sentence revision and 64 rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, writing posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in this comprehensive writing curriculum.

The second, Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, makes sense of grammar instruction with a curriculum designed  to integrate grammar and writing instruction.  Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, provides a coherent scope and sequence of 64 no-prep Sentence Lifting lessons that include Teacher Tips and Hints for the grammatically-challenged, simple sentence diagrams, and both basic and advanced rules/skills. The mechanics and grammar skills complement those found in the 72 Grammar and Mechanics Worksheets (ideal for mini-lessons) and target the diagnostic needs indicated by the Grammar and Mechanics Diagnostic Assessments. Perfect for upper elementary, middle school, and high school students.

Grammar/Mechanics, Writing , , , , , , , , ,

Differentiating Instruction in Writer’s Workshop

In Writer’s Workshop, students are provided a structured time to write in the social context of the classroom, with the expertise of their teacher as a “guide on the side.” In most Writer’s Workshops, students select their own writing projects and work at their own pace. Typically, a one-hour workshop would include some of these components: a mini-lesson on a writing skill, a brief “status of the class” check-in and goal-setting time, writing time with peer conferences and/or mini-conferences with the teacher, and time for published work or work in progress to be publically presented to the whole class.

Critics of Writer’s Workshop often complain that Writer’s Workshop can be inefficient and/or a class management nightmare. Some teachers have tried Writer’s Workshop, but have given up because the workshop is interest-based, not standards-based or because it is student-centered, not teacher-centered.

Neither of those criticisms concerns me greatly. However, I do feel that the traditional model of Writer’s Workshop is not as conducive to differentiated instruction as it could be. Tweaking one of the above four components does makes sense to me.

The Mini-Lesson

The traditional approach to the Writer’s Workshop mini-lesson is summarized as follows:

The secret to giving effective mini-lessons is asking yourself this question: “What single problem am I trying to help these writers solve?” The best way to do this is simply to take note of the specific problems your students are having, and to ask them from time to time what they would like help with. You don’t have to turn your whole class over to the students, but from time to time, maybe every few weeks or so, ask your students to give some thought to the difficulties they’ve been having, and what kind of help they want next. Then base your lessons on that information. A good rule of thumb for deciding on when to give a particular lesson is this: if more than a third of your class really needs to know about something in order to make progress, it’s time for a mini-lesson.

from “Welcome to Writer’s Workshop” by Steve Peha

The problem with this approach is that it begs a few questions:

Is there a single problem that all of the writers need to solve? Apparently not, if the “more than a third” criteria is followed. By this standard, the mini-lesson would be given to one-half to one-third of the students from whom the problem is not an issue.

Do the student writers really know “what they would like help with” and “what kind of help they want next”? Isn’t this more like the blind leading the blind? Students truly don’t know what they don’t know.

My suggestion is that mini-lessons should be differentiated according to the needs of all students and that the teacher has the expertise to best determine those needs. But, what data should teachers depend upon to plan differentiated instruction?

Advocates of the traditional approach to Writer’s Workshop favor this implicit approach:

In Writer’s Workshop, teachers don’t test their students on every new concept presented. They don’t have to. If the mini-lessons are delivered in a thoughtful and entertaining way that addresses legitimate student needs, and students are given encouragement and ample writing time to try out the new things they’ve learned, the concepts will begin to show up in their writing, which is exactly where we should be looking for them.

from “Welcome to Writer’s Workshop” by Steve Peha

Several problems arise when teachers rely too heavily on implicit formative writing assessments. First of all, this approach is highly inefficient. It may take many writing samples before a teacher can accurately deduce the discreet writing issues a student writer may have. Secondly, writers use their strengths, not weaknesses, so writing samples may not even present the information that a teacher needs to address relative weaknesses. Thirdly, even with “encouragement and ample writing time to try out the new things they’ve learned” the concepts may not ever show up in a student’s writing, if the student never learned the skill from the mini-lesson. Wouldn’t it make more sense to assess students on the discreet writing skills, design mini-lessons or assign targeted worksheets, then determine whether a particular skill has been mastered or requires re-teaching?

On a personal note, I use Writer’s Workshop three days a week with my seventh-graders. Over time, I learned to adjust my writing instruction to what students were and were not learning. Many mini-lessons turned into multiple-day lessons as I re-taught and struggled to find ways to get my students to learn what seemed so easy for me to teach. I learned the value of quick, informal formative writing assessments. Writer’s Workshop and differentiated instruction need not be mutually exclusive teaching designs.

The author of this article provides two curricular writing resources aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Both are appropriate to help teachers differentiate writing instruction for upper elementary, middle school, and high school students.

The first, Teaching Essay Strategies, includes 42 essay strategy worksheets (perfect for mini-lessons) corresponding to the Common Core Writing Standards, the e-comment bank of 438 prescriptive writing responses with an link to insert into Microsoft Word® for easy e-grading, 8 on-demand writing fluencies, 8 writing process essays (4 Common Core Standard informative/explanatory and 4 Common Core Standard persuasive), 64 sentence revision and 64 rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, writing posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in this comprehensive writing curriculum.

The second, Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, makes sense of grammar instruction with a curriculum designed  to integrate grammar and writing instruction.  Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, provides a coherent scope and sequence of 64 no-prep Sentence Lifting lessons that include Teacher Tips and Hints for the grammatically-challenged, simple sentence diagrams, and both basic and advanced rules/skills. The mechanics and grammar skills complement those found in the 72 Grammar and Mechanics Worksheets (ideal for mini-lessons) and target the diagnostic needs indicated by the Grammar and Mechanics Diagnostic Assessments. Perfect for upper elementary, middle school, and high school students.

 

Grammar/Mechanics, Writing , , , , , , ,