[Podcast] Focused Group Conferring
I've been asked several questions regarding conferring...specifically focused group conferring. This makes me because writers need other writers to talk to. We have a long history in art of portraits of writers sitting alone with their thoughts and a sheet of paper.
While we are alone with our thoughts for large chunks of time as writers, the social aspect of writing receives the least amount of attention in schools.
Some questions have come from blog readers and listeners of my podcast, and other questions have been from teachers reaching to me via email after presentations at recent conferences. Teachers have asked if they can hear an actual writing conference from my classroom, and some have asked if they could hear what the social aspect of the writing process sounds like: "doesn't that invite chaos?" "...what are the other students doing?" "...do you follow a list of questions?"
Clearly, most of my podcasts sound more like interviews of students and parents and less like a traditional conference "in the moment" where students talk about a particular piece of writing. I would need my own production crew following me around to capture those moments. As it is, I do set my iPhone down to record during some conferences, but like any act of note taking, the kids notice recorder. In most cases, they don't seem to mind--at least they don't say as much--but I imagine that some may be uncomfortable speaking when they know the audio recorder is rolling.
In this podcast episode, four 8th grade students in the midst of writing a personal essay sit down for a focused group conference. A bit of background--these four sit together every day by choice. They function as writing partners for each other and are often very focused in their conversations. Yes, there is a constant stream of chatter among them, but it is most often about their writing...and even if it is not, they redirect back to the writing without many cues from me.
Points for your consideration surrounding this focused group conference:
each writer shares a different obstacle in their writing
when three of the writers are listening, they offer focused insight as to how their classmate might address the obstacle
in the background, you can hear the moment the class finds a need for a collective break from writing in order to talk (and this is ok!)--it sound almost like a collective exhale
each of the writers hears the other writers receiving feedback in a small, supportive community where I model positive and encouraging feedback
the writers laugh; what is going well is discussed in addition to the obstacles