Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Michelle, I am so stunned that you were questioned about sharing your life. I know there are certainly limits, but I think that is one of my strengths- letting kids see I am am human and that I have successes as well as things resembling failures. Now, I am not saying a teacher should hare sordid details about her divorce to a class of any grade, but, for example, I am spending our Writing Wednesday time writing about my mom, who has cancer for the fifth time.

This spring my colleague KC West is piloting one of the first hybrid/blended courses at the high school. When Liz Boeser first came to our cohort to speak, I figured I was years away from teaching such a course, but now I am considering diving in next fall! I will return to this at a later time when more is known, but I think the style of such a course lends itself to the opportunity to conference with smaller groups even individual students.

In "Conferences are Conversations" I am struck by the simplicity of a conference structure: converse about the work of the writer and then converse about how the student can improve. At the same time when Anderson sates that it seems like today teachers have so much pressure coming from all directions that "it's all too easy to communicate to them in conferences how much we care about them." He later states that it is also too easy to "only see their work, and not the young writers who are doing the work." I feel this much more in grading academic or analytical essays than I do in "other" writing. In fact, I see some pretty amazing "other" writing come from students whose more formal papers- the ones the Am Lit teachers feel so pressured to have students write- are less than stellar.

In conclusion I end with a personal dilemma. Today I talked with two students about pieces they are writing. I cannot claim these were conferences at all, just brief exchanges. One student wrote a poem that was just too wonderful for words. I felt that I had specific direction to provide about rhythm and word choice. I think it was also easier for me to be a bit more critical and constructive because she could tell that I sincerely liked her piece a lot. The other was a a narrative piece that I was less enthusiastic about because it sounded too much like writing I've received in the past. At first I was at a loss about what to say to this young man who was clearly pleased with piece. I managed to extract some more details, and he returned to work with some new ideas. However, I realized that for both of them I missed what Anderson considers to be essential to conferencing: student input. Both kids asked for my help but I failed to ask for their perspective and their purpose in writing. I think that would have shaped my feedback quite differently, and I plan to connect with both of them again tomorrow.


  1. Elizabeth,
    I really connected with your story about the 2 conversations (or check-ins) you had with your students. All too often I find that students look to me as the "expert". They enjoy sharing their writing with me (and classmates) but they also look to me for the answers. In turn, I want to give them the answers but all too often I forget to ask them – the experts of their own writing for their input.
    I have written more than my students have so yes, I do have more experience but that doesn't mean I always know what is right. This is why I like how Anderson talks about conferences as conversations. On page 7 he says that these conversations are (or should be) more like “peer to peer rather than teacher to student or master and apprentice”. I love that idea – we are both working together, taking each other’s input equally.
    I also appreciate having a predictable structure (using the same questions) for each conference. This helps in 2 ways: 1)it gives me a place to start off and 2)the students know what to expect during each conversation. By asking 1) How’s it going? 2)What work are you doing as a writer today? And 3) What can I help you with today? I can turn the conversation back to the student and show him that he is the expert in the writing, I can just be there as a guide.

  2. Both of your comments really do tap into the simple wisdom Anderson has to offer in his chapter.

    I too struggle with the teacher/writer balance in conferencing. I often overwhelm writers with my enthusiasm about their writing without slowing down to listen to their plans for the piece.

    Reading through your comments and how you've interpreted Anderson, has helped me to identify (and hopefully curb) my urge to jump in and perfect the piece of writing, even when it is out of the "best of intentions"

    thank you.