At this point in the unit, since students should have a solid draft, we can begin work towards revising the narratives. The first step is conferencing, which is one of the cornerstones of my classroom.
I find it incredibly beneficial when students can share their writing as a way to gain greater insight into their own work. By doing this, they are not only gaining valuable skills as writers but also, if all goes well, learning how to work collaboratively. We start conferencing with personal narratives with the hope that students can conference with less direct instruction by the teacher for other writing pieces throughout the year.
The strategies and resources in this lesson have been compiled from a years of trying to find what works best. They have been taken from various professional development books, fellow teachers, graduate professors, and so on. While these strategies work best for me, it really comes down to figuring out what works best in each classroom. Conferencing can seem incredibly daunting and scary. What needs to be in place from the beginning is not just an environment of productivity that values writing, but also a clear structure and goal in mind. I always tell students as they are conferencing that there needs to be a reason for sharing their writing. This helps them to focus on the feedback they gave.
I begin conferencing by handing out the PQP Conferencing handout. PQP stands for Praise, Question, and Polish. This handout defines what conferencing is, which is important that we all have the same definition. It also gives students a specific structure to work with when they conference for the first time. After each draft is read, they will give a praise, ask a question, and give feedback to polish the writing. Since we want feedback to be constructive, the handout continues to discuss examples of appropriate and helpful feedback.
This PQP is usually the first type conference that we do since it is so structured. Each group, approximately four to five students based on varied ability, goes through this process for each writer. This can take few class periods, so keep that in mind.
Many times I find that students struggle with giving constructive feedback. They can have trouble learning how to evaluate the work of a peer in order to give feedback that is effective, but also that does not take the ownership away from the writer. When that happens, I work with the Sample Group Response Comments handout. Groups can work together as the read the various types of comments and they can discuss why each one would or would not be considered good feedback. They can have this as a resource as they are conferencing throughout the unit.
Many of the resources and strategies can take a few days, even a week to do, since I want to give each student ample amount of time to share his work and receive clear feedback. This whole process can be daunting at first but setting up a clear system is the best way to manage it. Many times I have each group create a plan first so they have a clear structure to work with.
As students begin to feel comfortable with a clear structure for conferencing, you can then move on to a less structured format. It will all depend on the group itself. Some students who are focused and motivated, do not need any clear format and are able to talk about their writing without teacher input or guidance. However, this does not always happen.
One way to get there is giving them areas to focus on in the writing. For that, I use Kinds of Responses handout. Yes, this is incredibly lengthy but I find success with it as it allows students to focus on specific areas of the writing. It takes a little ownership off the listener to give specific feedback for improvement, but rather has them just explain what they hear or noticed in the writing. The responsibility is then on the writer to turn that into areas they need to improve. This video explains the use of this: Kinds of Responses.
The group members can divide each kinds of responses amongst themselves as each piece is being read. For this, I encourage students to try different types of feedback so they have a wide exposure and can understand the differences between each type. By doing that, they can then understand more about writing as a whole.
Another resources I review if needed is the One on one Conference Questions. Throughout the unit, I conference with my students one on one a few times. The challenging part, aside from the time, is discussing their writing with them as they just want specific feedback to make it better. That is not my job. My job is to get them to see their writing so they can understand what they need to work on. The handout discusses questions that work and questions that do not work.
For some groups I pass out the Questions for Conferencing, which lists all different questions they can use when they read their piece. This usually works better with students who are able to give constructive feedback in a helpful manner.
It's also important to keep in mind when to begin conferencing. I usually start it when students have a completed draft of their piece. When they have a draft, they are more comfortable and willing to share and also, since they know it's their first draft, more willing to listen to feedback.