With this project, we invite you to listen in on the conferences that we've conducted with young writers and to hear some of the logic that informed our decisions in these conferences.
In the Units of Study for Primary Writing series, we provide you with transcripts of our minilessons, and I know you are able to use variations of those same minilessons in your own teaching. The relationship between our conferences and your teaching is less direct. In this letter, I want to share with you how we envision you will read and learn from these conference transcripts.
First of all, I hope that when you read through one and then another and another of these conferences, they will serve for you as Technicolor real-life examples of the translation of theory into practice. If you study them, you will see how we take principles and theories of conducting effective conferences into the very real world of classroom teaching. You may be surprised: Perhaps you envisioned that the research component of a conference was more extensive; perhaps you never dreamed that teachers were so explicit and directive. I suspect there will be many ways in which the conferences surprise you. If you pay close attention to those surprises, it will be as if I've listened in on your conferences and said, "Let me point out some key ways in which our conferences tend to differ from yours." Those differences will not necessarily reveal right ways and wrong ways to confer, but they will provide you with important food for thought.
I hope you look very closely at the conference transcripts. They bear scrutiny. Look across them, look between our conferences and your own conference transcripts, and study the way in which we have done any one thing. For example, study the compliment section in every conference. What do you see us doing over and over again? Compare the way we tend to give compliments and the way you have done this. By doing this, you will be able to create your own Guide to Giving Powerful Compliments. You could do similar work with any component of these conferences: Research, Decide/Teach, and Link.
You can benefit from categorizing the conferences, either on your own or with the sort features we offer you on this CD-ROM, to learn the different characteristics of conferences. I especially recommend sorting them according to the teaching method we use. Are we teaching using guided practice? Demonstration? Explaining and giving an example? Once you have a collection of conferences that use any one of these teaching methods, look at the teaching component across those conferences and notice what it is we do over and over that uses that teaching method. Notice that the bold statements in each of the teaching components of these conferences will be very similar because we make the same moves when we use any one teaching method. Try taking those same bold statements with you on a clipboard as you are conferring to prompt moves in your own conferences.
You could sort the conferences according to other categories. Perhaps you are interested in how teachers can incorporate mentor texts into conferences-a quick sort will give you a handful of conferences in which we do this. Similarly you may want to sort out all the conferences on which we try to help kids fill out their spellings; planning, revising, drawing representationally, or understanding the requirements of a genre; or conferences on work with partners.
Then, too, I hope that these conference transcripts allow you to plan for the conferring you will be apt to do within any one unit of study. Sometimes teachers enter a unit planning only for their minilessons. These conference transcripts should remind you that we can also anticipate the one-to-one and small-group work we'll probably need to do often within any one unit. For example, early in the year, you can anticipate that you'll need to scaffold your children so they grow more able to tell and write narratives. During a unit of study on revision, you can anticipate that you'll need to help children articulate the revision strategies they are already using. Although the conferences we do with our own children are forever new-in teaching, we don't step into the same river twice-this doesn't mean that we won't benefit from being prepared. The truth is, experienced teachers enter a unit of study anticipating the conferences their children will need. By reading and rereading the conference transcripts, we offer you a similar opportunity for foresight.
If you are a staff developer (or if you are your own staff developer) you may want to work with these transcripts in other ways. We find it helpful, for example, to remove the bold text from these conferences and to ask teachers to go through and divide the conferences into research, compliment, teach, and link. The discussion that can follow about what each component is and is not is often powerful. We also find it helpful to show teachers the research component of a conference only and to ask, "In this instance, what might you decide to teach, and how would you teach it?" Alternatively we could show teachers half of a conference and then say, "How would you end this conference?" We might ask, "What might you say to link the conference to the child's ongoing work?" If teachers try their own hand at writing portions of these conferences, they can then compare what they have written with our versions of these conferences.
I hope that after you study these conference transcripts, you become inspired to write down and revise your own. If our teaching is always spoken, then it tends to float away, unexamined. The power of writing is that when we write, we take our fleeting words and thoughts, and we fasten them to the page. Then we have, on the page, our best-draft thinking, and we are able to say, "Does this match what all of us believe about good teaching?" and "How might we improve on this?" With transcripts, we are able to step back from our best practices and say, "So what have we learned about effective teaching?"
My colleagues and I have been talking and thinking about the teaching of writing for decades. The past two years, however, have given us the richest learning experiences in our lives. The secret has been that we've begun to put our best teaching onto the page and to regard what we write as a draft, ready for revision. By reviewing and rethinking what we have done, we are able to clarify and strengthen our best ideas. Amanda and ZoŰ and I-along with others from our community-have found that by writing our best practices down, we take the first step toward outgrowing ourselves. More than anything, I hope this book lures you into a similar process!