Last week, I was studying a kindergarten writing sample with a group of teachers in preparation for a writing conference .
Dear Ms. Natale, I think that when people go to the art center they should have a smock on because they could get marker on their hands. Love, Sara
As we studied the piece, we were confused as to how wearing a smock helped if you had marker on your hands. Many of the teachers felt we should teach Sara how to include reasons that made more sense. While knowing what you will teach beforehand is comforting, it often means that you miss out on a conversation with a child–a conversation that could ultimately make your teaching more accurate.
Instead of PRE-PLANNING what you will teach, I suggest that you PREPARE for a writing conference by coming up with authentic, open ended questions–questions that will help you better understand the student and her writing. We came up with three.
- How does wearing a smock help with marker on your hands?
- Are there any other reasons that you think wearing a smock would be helpful?
- What do you plan on doing next?
Once Sara joined us, we discovered that many of the kids in the class hated getting marker on their hands so she thought they could wipe the excess marker onto the smock. When we asked her if there any other ways that wearing a smock would be helpful, she said, “Yes–you should wear a smock so you don’t get marker on your shirt.” And finally when we asked what she planned on doing next she said, “I am going to add the words ‘or shirt’ to the end of my sentence.”
Often, when studying writing with teachers, the elephant in the room is why shouldn’t I pre-plan what I will teach in my writing conferences? The conference with Sara gives us some insight into this question. Because it was a conversation, Sara was engaged not just in sharing her content but also in adding another reason. We also learned that her original reason, although unclear on the page, actually made sense when she explained it.
Just like in any good conversation, we learned from her and she learned from us. And when we let her words affect our words, our teaching was more accurate and Sara was more engaged in the learning process.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments below! Are there other ways you can come to conference prepared but not pre-planned?