a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Putting Group Writing Conferences Into Action

Yesterday, I posted regarding my new understandings aboutconferencing with student writers.  Today, I attempted to capture how powerful the changes I have made in my conferences have been.  The thing that struck the most when I was first exposed to this idea at the NCTE conventionwas that in a group conference each student has the opportunity to learn about four pieces of writing, instead of just one (their own).  What an authentic way to learn about a variety of writing styles and possibilities!

We are drafting letters to authors as part of the LettersAbout Literature contest.  V shared her draft, asking for feedback about whether or not the anecdotes she included were clear and effective.  Her peers were readily able to give her positive feedback, but they were less forthcoming when it came to constructive feedback to help V make changes to improve her letter.  So, I gently modeled, hoping the group would catch on as we continued (realizing that this is a skill we might have to work to develop as the school year progresses, but definitely a skill that will be worth the time).  I shared with V that while the anecdotes she chose were clear, she did not do enough to connect them back to specific details in the book about which she was writing.  V took my feedback happily and we moved on. 

Next, it was J’s turn.  J read his draft, asking for feedback on run-on sentences.  I chose not to jump in and correct him.  I knew it would be difficult for us to hear run-on sentences, as opposed to seeing them during an edit.  However, I decided to sit back and see what the other writers in the group thought.  J’s letter was already a second draft and I think he was having difficulty finding a weakness to ask about.  He had a clear So What? and his details from the text were clearly balanced with, and connected to, anecdotes from his own life.  It was a fair struggle, especially with this being our first conference of this nature.

That’s when a most beautiful thing happened.  When J read his letter, V noticed something.  She noticed that he perfectly balanced specific details from the text with his own anecdotes.  Do you remember the weakness in V’s letter?  There was no way I could have helped her in a one on one writing conference that would have been nearly as powerful as learning from J was.  Immediately after identifying a need, V was able to hear a model of writing from a peer that directly addressed her need.  Amazing. 

It is so worth slowing down to listen and talk to my student writers.  I used to think I had to save every ounce of class time by reading papers at home, post-it-noting my ideas, and cycling through a stack of conferences (instead of a room of student writers) as quickly as possible.  Not anymore. 


  1. V & J: What a powerful writing group they're engaged in. How wonderful for them and you!

  2. This is terrific! Learning from each other, always powerful. This is great that you have started this.

    I love the letters about literature contest. I always did it with seventh and eighth graders. I was going to do it with freshman this year, but with the new textbook, I just didn't get it done. I'll have a better plan next year!

  3. It is so magical when learning happens that wasn't written in the plan book! There is so much power in allowing students the time to talk/confer with each other. What a great example of learning in action.

  4. Thank for giving such specific details, Christy. I loved that you 'bit your tongue' & waited to see what would happen & I bet you're glad too. What a light bulb going off in V's head, & the fact that J helped had to give a boost to him, too. I used groups of writers doing research often & they were so helpful, to each other & to me.

  5. Your posts today and yesterday really have me thinking. Group conferences make so much sense. I will be watching for more posts about what you are learning as you experiment with this model. Excellent!

  6. I love this Christy!

    It is so worth slowing down to listen and talk to my student writers. I used to think I had to save every ounce of class time by reading papers at home, post-it-noting my ideas, and cycling through a stack of conferences (instead of a room of student writers) as quickly as possible. Not anymore.

    Slowing down...:)

  7. Love this! I also left NCTE with the desire to implement group writing conferences. So far they have gone well. Love your insights from your students.

  8. Yeah! Isn't that such a great feeling? Not only that the group conferences were implemented, but they effectively did what you had hoped and more! It is amazing when we do shut our mouths and let the kids talk, what they share. So much smarter than we give them credit for . . . some things still come out of their mouths that you lift an eyebrow at, but let's give them the chance to open their mouths!

    Good for you and thanks for sharing! So inspiring to "see" it in action!

  9. Your posts have me thinking...I'll need to spend some time re-reading them and figuring out how to bring this into my classroom. Thank you for sharing what you learned.