Beginning Writer’s Workshop can be an exciting time in a classroom. Students enjoy decorating their notebooks and jotting down their potential story ideas. They help in setting up what the norms of Writer’s Workshop are going to look like in their classroom for the year. There are new tools to try, new organizers, and new partners to share their stories with.
Pretty soon mini-lessons have begun and students start developing some of their seed ideas into stories. You are now a couple of weeks into workshop mode and it is going great, and as the teacher you are able to observe student’s writing interests and their stamina until you hear the words that you knew were coming … I’m done! What do I do now?
This is when that peaceful writing environment can begin to unravel if you are not careful. Often, “I’m done” spreads fast and furious around the classroom. It can send the best of educators running for the hills! You want to begin conferencing but now realize that you are outnumbered. So what are you to do? Even if you have another teacher in the room to help, you will soon have a line of students waiting to conference with you.
Take a step back at this point, and try not to become overwhelmed. You will get to know each student as a writer throughout the year, but it is not going to happen immediately especially when students are waiting to meet with you. Your goal as their teacher is to teach them to help themselves within all disciplines. Well, it is no different with writing. Many say that the best time a student improves as a writer is when they are able to meet one-on-one with their teacher. Yet, this cannot occur daily; you are lucky if you can do it weekly.
If you can set a goal that you will get to each student once during the week, that would be ideal. As far as timing, it does not always work out that you are free to meet with them or that they are truly ready for a conference. Often when you meet with a student there are so many aspects of their piece that you want them to develop or change, and you want to share them all and help them to make the piece perfect. As writing teachers we all know that is the wrong thing to do.
Students need to be able to:
- Take ownership of their piece
- Know that you are helping them grow as a writer, not to make their piece perfect
- Become critical readers of their own text
- Feel that this is their piece to grow and develop
One way I have gotten around the long conference lines and overwhelming feelings is by handing students a set of questions on a key ring. This is a way for them to step back and look at their piece while they are not in the midst of writing it. I have even had students do this with their writing partner (if they were both done). They are to go through each question and answer for themselves or their partner how they have met each question. Almost every time, students are adding on, grabbing extra small slips of paper to staple and arrow to additional text. They are learning to help themselves as writers by analyzing the piece and improve upon it. That has been an amazing thing for me to see because at this point while I know the topic they are writing, often I have not even seen their piece yet. It also helps because when they do get to meet with me in a conference, there is less that needs to be done, less advice to give, and I can send them away with one to two suggestions and feel good about where they are at with their piece.
My questions on the key ring include:
- What topic, event, or idea am I trying to write about?
- Have I done a good job telling about the whole topic, event, or idea?
- Are there any parts that I need to tell more about to help my reader understand?
- How does the story flow? Is it choppy in any places that I could fix?
- Is my story exciting in any places? Could I make it more exciting?
- Can my reader make a mental movie as they read my story?
- What is my reader going to think about my story?
- What will my reader feel after reading this story?
In the classroom, I practice this with a draft story I wrote so that students can see me modeling how I would answer these questions out loud. This helps them slow down and value each question in addition to seeing how it will help their writing piece.
You can make these questions into cards yourself, and I also have them available at my TpT store in a pdf document for you to print, mount, hole punch, and attach to a key ring here.
Good luck conferencing, and I hope this helps your writers become more reflective and independent over time!