There are things I love about teaching writing and there are things I hate about teaching writing.
I love having students dive into research and learn about a topic. I love seeing them grow as students and writers as they put this information into a slide show or essay. I love that I can get an idea that matches other parts of the curriculum and run with it pretty easily. I love seeing how creative students can get in their writing as they create all kinds of worlds.
I hate grading pages upon pages of work. I hate trying to help my students follow the writing process as they resist my best efforts. I hate trying to get my students to actually follow the directions of what the essay should be about. I hate trying to find time to conference with my students about their writing because there are just so many of them.
But there is a way to teach writing without dealing with many of the things I hate.
Why Writing Conferences Are Important
If you didn’t already know, the most valuable and important tool in the classroom is the teacher. A good teacher can make or break student success over the course of the school year. If students have a great teacher then they can grow by leaps and bounds. If they have a bad teacher they can stay in the same place academically or even worse they can regress.
It’s incredibly important to know this because then you will understand why writing conferences are so important.
Writing conferences are when a teacher meets with students 1-to-1 to discuss their current writing pieces. It’s where they can actually talk about the writing because let’s face it most students don’t read the notes we painstakingly write in the margins.
Writing conferences are a place where we talk about writing without a grade being attached. Students can learn how to improve and ask questions that have been developing as they work. It’s an incredible value discussion time in the classroom because it is all about effort and growth.
Making Time for Writing Conferences
Time is the biggest challenge that stands in the way of me completing writing conferences with every student. It takes so much time to meet with every student for a reasonable amount of time, read their current writing piece discuss it and move on to the next students. It’s tiring. And If I want to meet with each student while working on the same assignment I have to fit several conferences into one class period along with all the other things.
As a student teacher, I kept a log of who I met with. Each student had a paper with their name on it. I would write notes on what we talked about, what that student needed to work on, and what they did well. Slowly I tried to work my way through the whole class.
It’s a method that worked and made sure I met with every student, but it didn’t make anyone love writing more. It also left me feeling drained and stressed, so I wasn’t going to be doing my best teaching after conferences.
There is a better way to develop the writer-teacher relationship. It creates give and take. Students learn in a fluid way and I have time to talk to each child. Sounds like a dream, right?
Using Poetry to Conduct Writing Conferences
Imagine this. You put an example of the piece of writing students will be working on up on the board. You read it as a class and discuss it. Students start chatting about their own ideas. They start asking questions about what they want to do.
You hand out a prewrite and/or rough draft worksheet and students dive into work filled with their own ideas. As the rest of the class works you are able to help the students you see struggling to get started. You can have a conversation with them. You can ask the students around them to share an example of what they wrote as they started.
As the students who struggled to begin to write, some students are finishing up their first draft. You are then able to start to rotate between students in the room and help them revise their pieces. An important step that is often missed while writing. Revising often happens because of good conversations and the suggestions or questions of others.
You reading bits out loud together and asking if they think it sounds right. You point out places where they repeat words or can find better ones. Students even start to share with a classmate near them, cheering them on or asking questions.
Soon some students are starting to move onto the editing step, while the slow starters are now ready to revise with you. Before you know it the class period is over. You will finish the project tomorrow.
After that class period, you are left smiling and ready to move onto the next subject. The writing period was incredible. It was full of learning about word choice, format, and the writing process. An amazingly you were able to meet with every student in an informal conference.
Why Poetry Creates Great Writing Conferences
These writing periods do exist. I have experienced them many times while teaching poetry to my students. Learning feels natural and fluid in these moments. Energy and thirst for knowledge are brought out in kids while writing poetry.
Poetry assignments also allow teachers to hold writing conferences with almost the whole class in one period. Poems are short so it allows teachers to guide their students through writing because teachers can actually manage the amount of reading and critiquing required.
I have found that poetry creates a community of writers that are able to talk about and improve their work with excitement. Not only do the teacher and student develop a strong and positive relationship about writing, but students also connect with each other more through poetry. Poetry assignments often produce some of the best writing my students have and they love to share it and come to respect classmates in the process.
I believe in teaching poetry all year round, but April is National Poetry Month. If you haven’t found the right poetry assignments for your class yet, you can check out the poetry section of my TpT store. You deserve to experience awesome writing periods like the ones I have had.