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Inside Writing Communities, Grades 3-5

Program 9: Conversations With Student Writers

The program demonstrates how teachers incorporate conferences with students into their writing instruction. Viewers will see how teachers structure conferences, choose a teaching focus for the conference, and keep records of their interactions. The emphasis is on practical strategies and on the fundamental benefit of responding personally to student writing.

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Watch the 30-minute video “Conversations With Student Writers.” If you prefer to watch the video in segments, you can stop at the times suggested below or use the Video Guide (PDF) — a detailed outline of the video — to help you determine places to stop for discussion.

Answer the questions that follow each segment, jotting down your answers in your notebook.

Understanding the Purpose of Informal Conferences

In the first segment, Mark Hardy and Sheryl Block have impromptu conferences with students. In both classrooms, the students are in the pre-writing stage of a piece of writing.  (Stop after Sheryl’s last conference. You will find this image at the end of the segment, approximately nine minutes into the video.)

  • What do you notice about the informal conferences in this segment?
  • How do they differ from more formal conferences?
  • What are the challenges and benefits of each type of conference?

Managing the Class While Conferring With One Student

Managing the Class While Conferring With One Student

In the second segment, Nicole Outsen says that she provides her students with options to help them problem solve independently while she confers with an individual student. (Stop after Nicole’s interview about making time for conferences. You will find this image at the end of the segment, approximately 14 minutes into the video.)

  • What are some other strategies you might use to engage your class when you are having an individual conference?
  • How can you keep students from interrupting conferences for basic needs, such as asking for help with problems, requests for more paper or pencils, or for permission to go to the restroom?
  • Make a list of activities other students could be engaged in during individual conference time.

Listening to Students

Listening to Students

In the final segment, Lindsay Dibert lets her students do the talking in writing conferences. (Play to the end of the program.)

  • What techniques does Lindsay use to engage her students in conferences?
  • What are the benefits of asking students to talk about their writing process — what they like about their pieces and where they are struggling?
  • What questions might you ask your own students to help them identify the strengths and weaknesses of a particular piece of writing?