Sunday, March 2, 2014

A New Way of Connecting with Students - SOLC March 2

On a recent #NCTE Twitter chat, the topic was formative assessment, such an important topic for all educators to be thinking about.  During the conversation, Kristine Mraz posted a picture of a chart in her room that helps her stay honest when it comes to conferring with students and meeting with them in specific strategy groups during writing workshop.

Kristine Mraz's brilliant idea
Kristine is a primary teacher, but I immediately saw implications of how I could use this system in my own writing workshop with 2 groups of 5th graders.  I set up a bulletin board that was divided so that both classes had a place to communicate their writing needs to me.  As a starting point, I divided the possible needs into 3 categories (very similar to Kristine's, just slightly different wording):

  1. I need your feedback on a section of my piece
  2. Our group would really like to work on a writing strategy with you (slow down time, speed time up, show not tell, effective dialogue, developing characters, taking good research notes, etc.)
  3. I would like to share a short piece or a small section of my writing on Friday.
My version of Kristine's idea
The students were asked to put Post-it notes under one of the categories that would best help them as a writer when a need arose.  My initial thinking was about the autonomy this would give students; the power of having them ask for what they need as writers would be terrific.  This board went into place the day after the #NCTE Twitter chat, and in my humble opinion, has been a huge success.

While I still have strategy groups or conferences that are on my radar as a writing teacher, students are now asking for the assistance they need as writers to get them past a particular roadblock to which they may have come.  The focus and the industry of our writing workshop has changed dramatically, especially this last week, as this new routine became a more solid part of our workshop. Truth in advertising, this was also the first 5 day week I've worked since December (more on that in a later slice), but I think it's more than that.

I think this chart I borrowed and remixed from Kristine has allowed students a voice as writers that they might not have had before when I was the only one directing which students I would meet with each day.  Now, we have a more democratic way of helping writers, where everyone has a voice.

I expect that these categories might get tweaked as different needs arise, but for now I am cherishing the "work" time of our writing workshop.

Thanks so much to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the Slice of Life Challenge!  I look forward to catching up on many lives this month.


  1. I struggle with conferring in WW and ensuring I get to everyone. YOU very simply showed me a HUGH tip - just ASK the writers!! This reminds me that whenever something isn't working in the classroom, I need to just ask the students. THEY often have the perfect answer!! My colleague interned in Kristi's K room in the Fall and I got to visit this amazing teacher's classroom for 1 hour!! So glad you could learn from her, too.

  2. I love this idea and the two different graphic representations. Student's making decisions about what they need as writers, genius move Karen. xo

  3. This really makes me think about writing and reading conferences. I'm the one scheduling them and I see every student equally, but maybe that isn't what they need? Hmm. I will have to think further on this - love the idea.

  4. What a great way to give your students more ownership and control as they write!
    BigTime Literacy

  5. Hi Karen, I really enjoyed reading this... I think we often tell our students that they are writers but this really goes that extra step to empowering them to be actively thinking about it, how they can utilize you and the community of writers around them and really highlighting the role revision can play... Something I also use is having them suggest mini groups that they need and have them sign up... Looking forward to hearing more about your teaching!

  6. I love this structure for conferences and small groups. I think it will be really helpful to a lot of our teachers, particularly our upper grade and middle school teachers. I'm going to share the link with folks at my school! Thank you!

  7. I love seeing how others take an idea from a chat online and put it to use in their classrooms. Thank you for sharing!

  8. Karen,
    I love this! I'm thinking about how it would work with my first graders. I may actually - and this will really make you laugh - think about starting with it math. I'd like students to take more ownership of this learning and be more articulate about what they're working toward. This might be easier if they are telling me how I can help them?

    I'd really love to hear more about your strategy groups in writing. I hope you'll post about those too.


  9. I am alway amazed how one little idea can become such an important part of our classroom learning. The other part I love about this post is without it I would not be able to have a glimmer into your classroom and ever time I do I learn something new. Thank you for posting photos they help me so much with my learning.

  10. Karen,
    Like Cathy I am wondering how this would work with first graders. I juggle btw everybody in a week and "who needs me gets me" system. Most weeks I am feeling like I missing someone or something important! I like the idea of asking the writer. as Sally said the kids always know. Just the other day I had a student request direction from me in math workshop…hmmm.
    I am wondering…
    Did you have a rush of kids when you started this system?
    Are the number of request reasonable?
    Is there an expectation of how quickly you will confer?
    Once again thanks for spinning my wheels!

  11. I like this idea. I'm going to have to ponder how I will make it work with my kids....

  12. I love how you took an idea from a primary teacher and made it work for you in an older grade. I found your reasons for conferences a good balance between revision, learning, and celebration. All important pieces of being a writer.

  13. I love that you've putting more of the responsibility on those who know what they need, and as you talk more about the different challenges writers face, there will be more questions asked of you, and of their classmates, right? Great idea, Karen.