Maturing as a writer can be a lonely journey. Students must wrestle with themselves to find their own voice, style, and process of writing. The means of organizing thoughts is highly individualized often leaving writing teachers feeling inept to address the needs of each student in a class. While whole class instruction has its place in writing instruction, one-on-one student conferences are an effective yet underused method to offer productive feedback to growing writers. Student conferences offer a chance for the teacher to have insight into a student’s thought process and give individual feedback and instruction. Here’s my process:
On Returning Essays
On days that I return essays, I make general comments to the class as a whole about their essays. If I see common errors, misconceptions about a text, or organizational errors, these will be addressed to the entire class. I will also take time to read different paragraphs from student essays that are strong in personal style or have interesting perspective or analysis. Essays highlighted in class are not always 7s or 8s but may be shining parts of a 6 (maybe even just a great sentence), so the class has a chance to celebrate and encourage student growth. We will often reread the prompt and anchor essays from College Board to analyze and discuss before reviewing personal writing. I then return student essays for refection and personal assessment.
On Grading Essays
Different teachers have different philosophies on scoring essays; use what works best for you. I write a number corresponding the AP scoring guide with one Glow comment (what the student did well) and one Grow comment (an area that needs work). Some teachers only write a number. Other teachers write a number with comments throughout the paper. I prefer to save my comments that I would make through the paper for the individual conference.
After returning essays, I give students time to reread their essay, record their results, and jot down questions for their mini-conference. Students will have the remainder of the block to read independently while I pull a couple of chair into the hall for the mini-conferences. Sometimes conferences may spill over to the next day or students may choose to come before or after school if more time is needed. Students are not required to confer but must do so if they choose to revise their essay. For every essay my students write, they will always have the opportunity to confer with me about their essay and they will always have the opportunity to revise essays for a higher grade. These two things create opportunities for writers to grow.
Odds and Ends
Make an effort to discuss writing strengths as well as weaknesses.
Encourage students to keep a writing portfolio and review goals and progress throughout the year. Set aside at least two times during the year to discuss writing growth in general.
Refrain from being an editor keeping the focus on content, organization, and style.
If students are submitting writing through a Google doc, use Kaizena to offer feedback. This Google add-on allows teachers and students to discuss work through a document.
A writing conference is a two-way dialogue, not just the teacher speaking.
Allow students time to discuss their writing with peers and offer feedback to each other.
No matter how good or bad a student is at writing, writing and talking about writing moves the student forward.