Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Focus on the Good {SOL 4.18.17}

I have spent a lot of time lately thinking about how I approach conferring with my student writers.

As a teacher, I think I am sometimes unconsciously hardwired to want to fix things, to make them better.

I see something that is "wrong" and instantly try to make it right by breaking out my red pen.

The result is often a piece of student writing that is full of red ink, circled words, and comments that are not as helpful as I would hope. The ownership of the writing has left the hands of the student writer.

       Does this ever happen to you too?

Sometimes, we get so focused on fixing that we overlook what is already going well.

Sometimes, our continued helpfulness even makes the student lose their enthusiasm for writing altogether. Because....who wants to be told what they are doing wrong all the time? (I don't!)

So as I sit with my student writers, I try to keep this in mind. I try to be more aware of the words I use to talk with them about what I see in their writing. I try to always, always, always lead our conferences out with what I see them doing well.

       "I noticed you used the Power of Three...."

       "This part is very easy to visualize..."

       "Your paragraphing makes your article easy to follow....."

       "The FANBOY you used gives you nice sentence variety...."

Sometimes, I will leave it at that -- a few minutes together, talking about all the goodness I see in their writing. I offer no unwarranted suggestions before I send them back to work. The result always leaves the student writer feeling good.

Some days, when I am feeling the desire to push them a little further or that "fixer mindset" washes over me,  I will I ask them..."How can I help you with this piece of writing today?"

I don't tell them what I want them to fix. I leave it up to them.

And the funny thing is, about eight times out of ten, they ask for help on the exact thing that I noticed needed help.

But then it was THEIR idea, not mine.

THEY remain in control.

THEY retain complete ownership of their writing.

     And best yet --

THEY still walk away from the conference feeling empowered to make their own writing choices.

So while we do spend time in class talking about the importance of correct spelling and conventions (those things that bring on the wrath of red ink), I try not to focus on it in our writing conferences.

I want my students to know that there is more to good writing than just proper comma placement and capital letters.

Compliment conferences focus on the good in writing and can help turn a disengaged writer into one that takes ownership and interest in writing again.

So as you go about your conferring with your student writers, I challenge you to spend a day just giving compliments (and only compliments!) on the goodness in their writing and see what happens. You might be surprised how this simple act changes the students -- and changes you!

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  1. I think this is so important. I often think of student writing, or any writing, as a piece of artwork. And then I pause. Does the art teacher get out her red pen and "mark up" a painting or a drawing? Never! An art teacher would never ever do such a thing. I like the suggestions you gave to circumvent the "red" pen. I'll certainly add them to my toolkit.

  2. This is a powerful reminder! I need to ask the them what they'd like help with. A challenge I gladly accept!

  3. You are so right! I needed this reminder. I know that the kids usually already see what needs to be fixed before I say anything. I need to remember to sit back and let them speak first.

  4. Thank you for this! I need to do this more!

  5. It so important to make a writing a positive experience. With one of my struggling writers, I don't correct his work at all! He writes great stories accompanied with great illustrations but he really struggles with writing and most of his words are unreadable. Instead, I ask him to read his story to the class and commend him on his story. Then I have him read his story for me to type out when it comes to publishing time.
    I like your sentence- I want my students to know that there is more to good writing than just proper comma placement and capital letters.- So true!

  6. Important words, Jennifer, look for the positive, ask for student response. Somewhere in my early teaching days, I began to use only a pencil in comments if left. That helped me and the student see response instead of corrections. And you didn't mention it, so I'm not sure if you distinguished between response to content and straight editing. I didn't touch the editing until the content was what the student wanted or needed. It is so tricky, but individual conferences tell much about where the piece is, and where the student wants it to end. Thanks for such a provocative post.


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