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With Young Writers:
Time, Content, and Purpose

Conferencing with young or inexperienced writers can be challenging. For them to become writers, it must become personal. How can we help students discover that writer within through our conferencing time with them?

Good conferencing requires clear instruction beforehand. Once that happens, the teacher can become a coach. Fred Shoemaker, an experienced golfing instructor, says a coach's primary role is to help students achieve awareness." Its no different in your class. Become a mirror; teach students to reflect on their own writing.

What does strong conferencing look like?

  • It occurs as frequently as possible (at least weekly).You might need only 4-5 minutes per student, sometimes less.
  • The aim is not to review an entire paper or correct everything. Isolate a weak spot in content. Conventions can come later, once the child is freely writing.

The single most important element children need to grow into writers is the belief that they are writers."
~ Lucy Calkins

Strong conferences guide, focus, and explore possibilities. They do not give one right answer. Writers always have choices. If the writer is stuck, what is the problem? If he is finished, what is missing? If she is confused, clarify with a thoughtful statement or question such as:

  • Where is your dilemma (great chance to teach new vocabulary!)?
  • Can you tell me what problems you had?
  • Your paper could really improve if you think about how to . . .
  • What did you mean when you said . . .?
  • I like the part where . . .What else can you tell me? . . .
  • What did you feel (think, smell, taste, wonder) at this moment?
  • Did you use the tools we talked about in the mini-lesson today? How so?

Don't try to solve every writers every problem all at once. Aim at one component the student is ready and capable of successfully addressing. Seek out the one portion of the writing with the most potential. Nancie Atwell, author of In the Middle, tells us students learn best the mechanics of writing through the context of their compositions."

The longer I myself write, the more I realize the power language has. Plan your conferences as a potent way to help students communicate their message.


About the Author

Known as the "Literacy Ambassador," Cathy Puett Miller uses her library science degree from Florida State University as the foundation of her work. With more than ten years experience as an independent literacy consultant working with teachers, parents, librarians, and non-profit family-friendly organizations, she has conducted research initiatives and best practice studies in the areas of beginning reading instruction, emergent literacy and volunteer tutoring. She currently is listed on the U.S. Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse Registry of Outcome Evaluators.
Cathy's freelance writing appears in such print publications as Atlanta Our Kids, Omaha Family, and Georgia Journal of Reading, and online Literacy Connections,, Education World, Family Network, the Reading Tub, The National Education Association, and BabyZone. She also reviews children's books at Children's Literature Comprehensive Database. Her signature is her passion for connecting children and families to positive, powerful experiences with reading; she believes there is a book for every child. 


Article by Cathy Puett Miller
Education World
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