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The Quietest Writer's Conference of All

Photo credit: Belle Co

Inside every writing conference, I have a favorite moment. It lives in those few seconds right after I’ve given feedback, and I watch as it registers in a series of expressions that crosses the child’s face like sun rays breaking through clouds. There is a moment of surprise, followed by the smile that says, “You get me.” In that space of human connection, my heart surges. I find joy in these brief encounters, and yet I also know that feedback doesn’t always need to involve me, the teacher.

Like water, feedback doesn’t have a single shape; it flows and morphs, taking on the shape of the interaction. It can take on the form of a teacher conference, when writers are honored and nudged just a bit further along. It can take on the shape of partnerships, when writers gather deeper understandings about themselves and their work through conversations with peers. Feedback in these familiar shapes helps writers make decisions about process, choices, and possible next steps for revisions. Yet less familiar—and less understood or acted upon— is feedback that takes the form of the writer himself. This kind of feedback is internal; it is self-generated through reflection.

The ability to reflect is learned and earned slowly over time, and so worth the practice, for reflection becomes the mightiest of tools for a writer. Writers use it to mine their own work and see all the beauty that is already there on the page and consider what they might try next.

So where do we begin? Clearly, we can’t expect students to be living in a space of deep reflection where they can see and articulate their own strengths and needs on day one. In the classrooms I work in, I often set this work in motion by inviting students to lean into the habit of questioning. After all, questions can be like the match that ignites innovation and creativity in all of us, or those magnifying mirrors that give us a brand new view of ourselves.

In minilessons, conferences, and goal-setting conversations, try out posing some of these questions to help learners begin to reflect on their work:

  • What trouble did you run into and how did you find your way out?

  • Look at your piece/your thinking. What are you most proud of? Why?

  • What is a strength or something you feel good about?

  • What parts of this work feel easy for you?

  • What parts do you need some help with?

  • What do you want most for this piece? How are you attempting to achieve that?

These questions may seem simple, but when our students begin to use them as a way to have quiet conferences with themselves, we begin to see true ownership take hold. This is not to say that leaning into self-reflection devalues our writer-to-writer conversations; instead, it gives strength to those peer interactions. Reflective practices will help children begin to take the lead in all our conference work, enabling them to clearly express what they are working on and how others can help them. It will allow them to articulate their goals to their partners and seek specific feedback from other learners in the room. In the end, reflection allows students to see themselves in whole new ways, and we may even see those smiles creep across their faces as they reread their own work, and see all that is already there.

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