Friday, December 2, 2016

Today's reflection:

Why Conferring Matters

I looked at Maria (name changed). I couldn’t stop the tears pooling in my eyes and she could not stop hers. We hugged, sighed, paused, and then began to talk. This writing conference with Maria, I believe, taught her the power of language, the power of her story being heard. It taught me that conferences are sacred. They not only give us a perfect opportunity to teach to the specific needs of individual students, but the conference also provides a window into the lives of our students that helps us connect in ways we can’t do otherwise.
I was working in a sixth-grade language arts classroom during a unit of study on memoir and I was partnering with the teacher, our emphasis on conferring strategies. The students were beginning to draft their pieces.  I met with Maria (name changed) asking her to talk with me about what she was doing as a writer that day.

She explained that this was hard, this memoir she was drafting. She had decided to just write quickly trying to get the story down in her notebook. Then she would go back to revise. She had just finished her initial draft.
“Ok, so you are doing a flash draft. Writers often do that when they just need to get something out. May I see what you have so far?”

“Sure,” she answered, “but it is not very good.”
I began to read her rough draft.

My dream was that me, my mom, my dad, and my little brother Teddy, (Name changed) were going to be together forever never to separate from each other. Our family was little but always happy but now it’s broken don’t know how long is going to last. It all started when I came back from school like always I did my homework, playing with my little brother Teddy. He was two years old I was seven, and seeing dad learn his English I was better than him in speaking English but not as smart like him and learn a little more. Night came dad kissed me and my brother good night. I woke up in the middle of the night. I was surprise that my dad wasn’t in bed and I saw why. Mom wasn’t home she never came home this late at night not even my dad. I worried and went back to bed but couldn’t sleep. I heard the door open and then close. I look at my dad I had a smile on my face but dad a frown. In his hand I saw a belt I don’t know what he was going to do with it. I was scard. Dad went down stairs I heard them talking, then that talking to turn to yelling I covered myself and then I heard my mom scared. I jumped. tears was coming out of my eyes I was scrade I whated everything to stop    the screaming    the yelling    everything around me. I couldn’t stop crying   my eyes   my nose   were red   I whated to go downstairs to stop the fight but I felt that I was frozen right were I was. Why was my dad doing with mom  why the belt? And then I remember   Dad called mom’s boss saying she went out with someone. I stoped crying and then I felt heart-broken. I heard the police siren outside the house. Someone called the police. Fanilly I jump out of bed ran down stairs  I saw a policeman taking photos of mom wounds  I saw red marks on her legs and then I look at the window  two policemen where taking dad to the ploice car  I cried so loud I wanted to run right straight to my dad but someone hold me back  it was one of moms friends the one who called the police she said everything was going to be allright but not for me I knew nothing was going to be the same for me. I felt lonely and a piece of my heart never healed.

It was raw. It was honest. It was painful to read. On this particular day, and this particular conference, I did not offer advice. I simply responded as a reader moved by Maria’s story. We discussed who her audience might be for this piece. She wondered if it might help others who had been in a similar situation as her. Maybe it might help them know they weren’t alone.

 I share this conference for several reasons.
First, conferences take time. We can’t expect to have a lasting effect on students when we confer, if we don’t take the time to know our writers so we can respond in meaningful ways. I believe that the biggest difference we make in the classroom comes when we have built relationships based on trust and caring. Writing conferences are a perfect way to know our students, not just as writers, but also as people.

Second, I can make better decisions in the conference when I take the time to listen to what the student is trying to do, to talk and ask questions to learn more, to read at least a portion of the piece, and then provide a teaching point that makes the most sense for that student at that moment (or in the case above, not teach at all but simply give an honest response).

Conferencing with students truly is the heart of writing workshop. As my favorite conferring guru Carl Anderson Says, “As we get better at conferring, it’s essential that we remember the most important lessons about having good writing conferences.  To confer well, we need to be affected by students, and them by us.”