This is the part of the 5 day writing cycle when you get to do targeted instruction and support W.1.5 (With guidance and support form adults, focus on a topic, respond to questions and suggestions from peers and add details to strenghten writing as needed). It comes after you have instructed and modeled, after the kids have written independently, and before they write their final drafts. It requires a bit of planning, because you need to decide what teaching points will be more powerful. Grouping is also something that you need to decide, because it is more fluid than the reading groups. Often, reading ability does not match writing ability, and not every child in a reading group will need the same writing instruction.
I hold individual conferences while the class is working on a variety of independent assignments such as worksheets, computers, reading, or other writing. Instead of calling each student to my table, I call a small group of students who are struggling with similar things in writing. This allows them to hear my suggestions in situations similar to theirs. (It also helps with classroom management since you have fewer kids working by themselves). The conferences will range from conventions (with the lowest group) to discussions on expanding sentences, vocabulary lessons, or practicing the use of a student dictionary or word book with the advanced groups.
It is practically impossible to conference with all my 28 students on a day, so I use day 4 and 5 for conferences. If I have planned a special publishing product for day 5, I do the corrections on many of my students' work without conferences, and target just a portion of the class.
Before I start the conferences, I comment about the great things I saw in their writing, making sure I select specific examples from all ranges of ability.
Before I start the conferences, I comment about the great things I saw in their writing, making sure I select specific examples from all ranges of ability. Then I assign the work, and call a group to my table.
There must be almost as many ways of managing small groups as there are teachers. If it works for you it is good. Ages ago I had table groups and they rotated through stations, working with me being one of them. This was easy to manage, but it has the serious disadvantage of keeping kids in homogeneous groups, when research shows that it is better to keep them in groups of different abilities. Now I have a menu of activities that the students can choose from after they finish any specific assignments such as their daily journal writing and practice pages from the textbook. The list of activities is: spelling practice, read with their book buddy, finish any incomplete work, clean their desk, complete a graphic organizer or get on the computer. While they are working independently, I call homogeneous groups to my table to work on specific skills. Some students may be called more than once in a day, some every day, some two days a week; but everyone gets to work with me at least once a week. It took my a long time and many conversations to settle on this system, and it works for me ... at least for now!
Conferencing with students is not only a way to meet W.1.5: With guidance and support from adults, focus on a topic respond to questions and suggestions from peers and add details to strengthen writing as needed. The corresponding College and Career Readiness Anchor Standard is: Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach; conferencing, again, is a way to capture get to the hear of this anchor standard. I also see it as a great way to give personalized writing instruction, too.
I hold my conferences at a kidney table while the rest of the class is working on independent assignments. I call a homogeneous group, and conference with each kid in the group at a time. I prefer this to calling one student at a time because they benefit from listening to my comments to students that have similar writing skills. This is particularly helpful when I work with English Learners who are at the same level, because the conferences almost end up being mini grammar lesson.
In the resource section you can see some samples of the conferences I held for this lesson:
I began by handing out annotated papers to students with whom I was not meeting that day, so that they could start working on their final draft (sample 1).
Then I met with two students whose writing skills are low (sample 2) and with whom I am working on L.1.1 (Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.) and L.1.2 (Demonstrate command of the conventions of standards English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.).
Finally I met with a group of proficient writers (samples 3) to have a conversation about the importance of reading their work before handing it in. I had them each read their work while the others listened, and marked corrections that they or I made. I need to meet more formally with these students to work on self and peer editing (W.1.5).
At the end of the conference period I will either:
1) have them share one thing that they improved in their writing (if this is not a piece we will take to a final draft), or
2) talk about how we will publish that piece.