Sunday, October 02, 2016

#DigiLitSunday -- Conferring

My fifth graders did lots and lots of work on their narratives of "imagined experiences or events" in their writer's notebooks before we ever brought a draft into their Google Apps for Education account. While we were in the notebooks phase of these pieces, I conferred with writers on an as-needed basis. When we were planning, I could listen in on small group conversations or I could take a pulse during share time to get a sense of who was struggling and needed one-on-one help. I could borrow all of the notebooks for an evening and do a quick read-through of their possible leads to sift for those who needed help and those I could use for minilessons under the document camera.

When it came time for a handwritten draft outside their notebook, I didn't give my students much time to pull together all the bits and pieces of planning, leads, and snippets of dialogue. They had a tight deadline and I was brutal -- meet the deadline or forego Genius Hour. I wanted these drafts to be rough because I wanted them to understand that their work on the computer would be to create a new and better draft, not just type up what they had written on paper and call it good. By having every draft on paper, I could easily carry them all home, read carefully through each draft, and make +/- notes for each child on my clipboard chart. Once they began their drafts on the computer, I would gain the ability to have a quick conference with each student by leaving digital comments on their work.

I made sure the initial session on the computer was a short one. All they had time to do was log into their Google account, go to Drive, open a new Doc, name it with the conventions I gave them, and share it with me.

After that first quick computer session, I used my notes from their handwritten draft and left a comment for each student that might guide their work on this next draft.

Every day or two, I read through each student's work, taking notes on what they've improved and what they still need to work on. I have a little digital conference with every student in the comments, and I know exactly which students need my personal attention, and for what. I can group students who have the same needs and do small group work, and I have digital examples of exemplary writing, along with pieces that (with student permission) I can use in minilessons for craft, revision, and editing.

Conferring is the heart of writing instruction. It's what makes the teaching personal to the words the writer has put on paper or screen. Technology has given us another very powerful way to confer with our student writers.


  1. Mary Lee,
    I love the way you hold your students through the process of notebooking and drafting on paper. The digital world of Google docs becomes the place to revise and edit. Many of my fifth graders are just learning that you can insert lines and words in the middle of their docs! Even though many text on their phones, they haven't experienced revision in the digital environment. Thanks for linking up (even when the linky link didn't work). :(

  2. Conferring is the heart of writing instruction. Every year, I learn more and more about conferring. I like using google docs when giving feedback. I think it allows there to be a conversation between my students and me when we can't sit down next to each other. Have a great week Mary Lee!

  3. I am a big Google docs fan, too, Mary Lee, and I love having those little digital conferences. Having student work so easily accessible (and legible!) just makes our work together so much better.

  4. We are not a Google district and I have no idea why. It makes writing instruction so much easier. To compensate I use kidblogs and private teacher messages. I also confer one on one. You are right that being in touch with each writer is at the heart of writing instruction.


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