Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Wondering About Writing Conferences

Over the course of my teaching career, I have discovered the value of individual writing conferences with my students. It is not as though the written feedback I provided for so many years wasn’t valued, but more so that I watched student after student simply turn to their assigned grade and then put the returned paper away never to be seen again- lost to the abyss of the backpack.

After some time, I thought, why am I spending all this time writing this great feedback when it seems that students are just tossing it aside and moving on to the next piece? I also came to the realization over the past few years that writing shouldn’t be a one-time only process but that we should continue to teach kids of the process not simple completion. And so entered the 1-1 writing conference.

Since we have a variable schedule here at AHS, we have the ability and convenience to meet with students on our off hours. I usually have kids schedule meetings with me when we have the same unscheduled time, and if that doesn’t work, before or after school. This year, I have met with all my students to go over some piece of writing. With my freshman it was their initial writing piece (we call their writing sample) to see where our students are in their writing instruction. For the most part, I am not sure if I am going to continue this practice. I see the value in having a pretest of their abilities, but many don’t know how to write and so I end up teaching them how to compose a formal essay anyway. I guess I am lost as to the purpose of the prewriting assessment as a real means of learning. I suppose I could have them take their first writing samples and look back at them at the end of the semester to comment and reflect on their growth as writers (that is hoping that they grow J). My seniors use their writing conference time to review their college essays before final submission. I really enjoy this time with them, getting a chance to help polish a piece that speaks loudly of their accolades and experiences. With all writing conferences, the time to instruct one on one, hearing their questions and comments by receiving direct feedback is so valuable. Additionally, by having the students come in to see me, many students come to recognize the connection that teachers are here to help them get better at learning. I think this is definitely one of the most important aspects of my teaching and my classroom.

With both of these writing conferences, I transition to different conferences for the next meetings. There are two methodologies I use and feel are valuable, but I am unsure if one way is necessarily better than the other. One way I conference is before they submit a final piece to be graded. I see real promise in helping kids develop their writing skills before receiving final grades on papers so that this conference can help with preventative measures. The problem with this is it assumes (you know what happens when you assume) that grades are final, there is a due date, and that the writing process has ended on this paper.

The other way I do conferences is post submission, post due date. I like this idea because it gives kids a chance to correct mistakes on their papers with my written feedback, but I often feel as though then I am simply an editor for their paper and they are fixing the little things, not the ideas, arguments, etc… I think there is value to this because it focuses on the process rather than the grade, but the students who simply view me as their professional corrector makes this much more challenging.

I still see relevance in both, but am unsure if there is one method that works better than others. With increasing my student numbers in all my classes, this semester I have had student conferences at every single off hour plus before and after school, so I know that the conferences are meaningful. I am just wondering if I need to focus more on the preconference or post conference. Maybe I should let the kids pick which one works better for them? Also, the conference is something I require because I do feel it is so valuable, but I wonder after the initial writing conferences, if I should see if they come to me if there is no requirement?(a supposed “Build it and they will come”-thank you Kevin Costner).

Just a lot of questions here, no real answers.

1 comment:

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