The teachers that I work with often tell me that conferencing with writers overwhelms them because they aren’t certain what to look for in student writing or what to say when they find it. This is why the coach in me appreciates books like this one and this one.
Calkins and Culham never suggest that conferences are scripted events, and they certainly don’t suggest that teachers limit their work with writers to the prompts and the practices they share. They simply illuminate pathways that can open us to more meaningful and focused conversations with writers. Their work has provided welcome direction and a level of relief to many of the wary writing teachers that I know.
Last summer, I worked with a variety of young writers to generate this list of prompts, which can be used at different phases of the writer’s process. While I share them with teachers, it’s more important to know that they can be shared with young people too. In my experience, the best writer talk happens within communities where everyone is empowered to ask purposeful and powerful questions.
To that end, teachers of writing might consider using Ning or another social network to create opportunities for such conversation. A number of people that I’m working with this year have studied the effect of shifting conversations from face-to-face to online spaces. In every instance, writers who were less comfortable engaging in writer talk within the classroom were willing to take greater risks online. Many of them were willing to share their work, request support, and give and provide quality feedback. This has enabled some of them to gain the experience and courage necessary to speak up in class as well.
Our WNY Young Writers’ Studio ning features a peer review group, where participants may post work and request feedback from others within our community. The protocols that we use are adapted from those I was introduced to through my fellowship with Communities for Learning. Peer review remains one of the most meaningful forms of writer talk that we participate in, as it engages both the writer and the review in critical thought, reflection, and discourse. You can access different versions of our protocol below. Initially, writers may need to refer to these guidelines often as they move through the peer review, but over time, we’ve found that it becomes the way that feedback is provided in even the most informal settings.