How to Use Writing Conferences to Coach Writing
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One of the 10 Things That Makes a Great Homeschool Day is the conference we have with our writers. I’m often asked what a writer’s conference looks like, so today I’ll explain Using Writing Conferences to Coach Writers of all ages. It feels out of context to only tell about the conference portion of the process, so I’m including where we start and how we finish out the assignment as well.
My philosophy on teaching writing and language skills from a young age is one of a coaching role. My job is to meet my writers where they are, give them the tools they need and how to use them, and to help them to meet their goals. What is the goal? To be an effective written communicator. That’s what it’s all about.
Step 1- Give the Writing Assignment
The first step is to assign a task for writing. Perhaps it will be something from your curriculum or it could be something outside a set curriculum such as a thank you letter or a blog post. The assignment depends on the level of the student and what skills need the most work. Our younger students focus on writing which comes from their studies while older students may work on writing in the content areas in addition to their English course.
Writing choice for elementary grades might include:
- Narration from a book they are reading– They will tell me what is happening or what their favorite part so far in the story is.
- Simple Writing Prompts– Inspire young writers for a few paragraphs of story.
- Short Research Ideas– To follow a bunny trail from our studies. In the picture above, our 4th grader was reading about The Black Spot from Treasure Island. He was able to write about what he learned and report to us at dinner.
Middle School Assignments
Typically a middle school student will be learning to better organize their writing and you can give longer assignments. This is a great time to stretch their skill set. A few ideas:
- More Detailed Writing Prompts– From sources like WriteShop and Story Starters work well at this age.
- Writing Journal Ideas– from books like Ripe the Page & Spilling Ink.
- Reports– Tell about anything they are learning in classes or about people they want to know more about.
- Persuasive Essays– It’s a great skill to be compelling with writing. Our kids practice this skill any time they want something that will take extra convincing. A well written persuasive piece goes a long way.
High School Assignments
By high school, writing gets more complex and we are preparing our students for college entrance, college courses, and life beyond high school. For example:
- Essays on Books– Books for classes, books they are reading. Being able to summarize and give an opinion or a thesis based on a work of literature is critical for the college bound student.
- Research Papers– For any number of courses based on interest or a curiosity. Our 11th grader is finishing up a paper for biology on The Plague vs Ebola. I suggested the assignment based on questions he had about the virus when the breakout occurred over the summer. It sparked questions about the number of deaths from Ebola and how that compared with the Black Death from the Middle Ages. It’s an interesting read and requires biological knowledge in addition to history and current events.
- Blog Posts– Both of our teens keep a blog, though they don’t regularly contribute. Blogs help young writers to find a voice.
- Writing Related to Subjects– Rather than following the exact assignment from history, our high schoolers are choosing something to research and write and essay about based on something they thought was interested in their history reading. Below is an essay on convenience and junk foods from the early part of the last century. I let my students choose what strikes them as a good topic for their essays rather than always delivering assignments.
Step 2- PreWriting
Before your student begins to write, it’s important to organize information. How do we do it and what tools do we use?
- Outlines– For some of my kids, a simple outline type list of what they want to include and where is sufficient for prewriting.
- Graphic Organizers– Visual representations of what to include in their writing.
- Discussions– We talk a lot about what to include and how they want to proceed. Sometimes even a focused conversation goes a long way to organizing writing for older kids.
Step 3- First Draft
There comes a time in every writing task, when it’s time to write. I try to encourage our students to write without worrying about every little thing. The idea is to complete a draft, so we can make it even better. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time.
- Work from Their PreWriting– Use the outline or graphic organizer or list to write from so that they include everything.
- PreWriting Does A Lot of Work Ahead of Time– If they don’t ignore it, they have a road map for their first draft.
Step 4 Self- Edit the First Draft
For the most part, I prefer not to look at my kids’ writing until they have been over the assignment themselves to see if they can pick out glaring errors. There are a lot of ways to do this, but I usually remind them of mistakes they often make. Things like:
- Capital letters at the start of sentences
- Proper nouns capitalized
- Sentences end with punctuation
- Commas in a series or to set off a clause
- Repetitive words- look for words you use too often.
- Too many “to be” verbs- this is a newer one added to the list
- Misspelled words- circle the ones you aren’t sure about’=
- Indented paragraphs
- Complete sentence- do your sentences have a subject and a predicate?
- Does it make sense? Read it over and catch missing words or left out information
There are more you could add to the list depending on the skill level of your students. If I can get my students to notice this short list of things and fix even some of them on their own, that is a win.
Step 5- Turn in the Edited First Draft
Now it’s time to turn in the draft to me. The first time I see it, is after they’ve taken a look at it and hopefully caught some simple mistakes. How do they turn in their work?
- Hand written– Our younger students still like to turn in hand written work. Our youngest loves computers so I look for opportunities where he can work away from them!
- Computer print outs– Students will compose their work on the computer, print it, self-edit or self-edit then print, and hand over the printed paper to me.
- Computer email submission– This is a new favorite of mine. Especially during the mentoring process. They email me a Word document that I can edit electronically too. The nice thing about electronic editing is the opportunity to interface right on the computer within the document. Microsoft Office 2013 allows you to mark up papers and you can see below (and above) how the edits are seen on the computer. I can make marks on the paper and leave notes in the margin marked by a quote bubble the student can click into and read.
The electronic communication is nice for going back and forth during the writing process– especially for high schoolers. If your older students ever take online courses, this will get them accustomed to the format as well.
To store the documents, I keep an email folder for each of my kids as well as a folder on my computer to store their document and final draft. I’m fairly comfortable with this knowing we back up our computers and server so that we don’t lose data.
Step 6- Conference with Mom as Your Writing Mentor
The coaching and mentoring occurs throughout the process in various ways. I try not to micromanage, but to give them the tools they need to do what they can. Then we talk about their work and they make adjustments.
- Discuss the Assignment– Before they begin writing, we make sure the expectations are clear and even before an exact assignment is given, I discuss what direction they want to head in (especially for older kids).
- Check in on the PreWriting– Method and progress, help if needed, review what needs to be in the essay. See if they are having trouble focusing on what needs to be there and help them to get back on track or to make adjustments.
- Reminders on Self Editing– What to look for and how to mark it or edit it
- Read Through– I will do a read through after the first draft has been edited by the student. I jot down initial reactions and then read it again.
- Make Suggestions for Revision– Based on the goals of the assignment and the skills we are working on. For younger students, it might be a few basic items. For older students, we’ll look at the piece as a whole. Expectations for my 11th grader and 4th grader are different.
- Read Through Subsequent Drafts– The older the student, the more drafts required because by the end of the process, the goal is a polished piece of writing.
Turn in The Final Draft
For younger kids, the final draft will be a more polished version but it will probably not be perfect. The older your students get, the more polished the final draft will become. I accept final copies in the following ways:
- Hand Written– A new copy written with revisions
- Computer Print Out– A revised version printed and turned in
- Electronic Copy– Fully revised and submitted electronically. I can choose to simply read it and store it or I can print it for physical portfolio type purposes. Again, we do a lot of back ups so I’m not worried about losing everything. You’d have to decide whether this works for you.
The process repeats itself with each new piece of writing we encounter throughout the year and as time goes on, we see improvements in our kids’ writing and they get closer to reaching their writing goals.
Other Resources for Coaching Writers
Writing is a big part of life here at Blog, She Wrote. It’s such an important life skill whatever the future holds for our students. Enjoy a peek at some other posts on writing and a few Pinterest Boards.
- Coaching Writers– A Pinterest board devoted to content which focuses on authentic writing experiences with an emphasis on meeting students where they are and mentoring them to be better writers.
- Methods for Teaching Middle & High School Language Arts– Our approach to language arts in the upper grades
- Creating Other Worlds Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction– All about resources for immersing in and creating other worlds in creative writing.
- High School Skills Analyzing Text– Arguably the best skill we can teach our students before college…how to read a book or many and write about them.
- A Homeschooler’s Guide to The Persuasive Essay– Perfect for writing college exam essays. Are your high schoolers ready with a succinct, logical argument, and a ready opinion?
- Writing the Personal Essay– Get your students ready to write a winning personal essay, for college apps and other opportunities.
- Tips for a Well Written Expository Essay– Learn tips for building a well organized explanatory essay.
- Resources for Coaching Writing– Some of our favorite writing books and author mentors
- Coaching Writers with a Writer’s Workshop– We host a regular Writer’s Workshop in our home with writers in middle and high school. Click to see how we structure our time together.
- The Ultimate Guide to Coaching Writing– Contains these links and many more for working with writers in your homeschool.
Slow and steady wins the race. We try to keep moving forward and see our kids make progress in their writing skills. We add in what’s necessary as they gain skills so they can be stretched to the next level. Our kids are immersed in reading and writing in many forms from a young age and we love to watch them gain confidence as they get older.
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Free Writer’s Workshop
When our oldest teens were still in high school and middle school, we hosted a writer’s workshop in our home.
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This workshop is for all ages and stages of writer.
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