Your first writing conference should take place before you start writing instruction so you understand how every child you teach feels about their writing.
They talk. You listen.
Our first challenge as writing teachers is to help students overcome the impression that they can’t write. Feelings are not facts, but perceptions are everything. If someone perceives themselves to be a bad writer, then they will write badly. Self-fulfilling prophecy.
In my short-lived romance with ballroom dancing my instructor would say to me, “If you can walk, you can dance.” Similarly, if you can speak, you can write. Writing is your talk written down. If a student can speak it, he or she can write it.
But just as lots of kids say, “I hate math. I don’t get math,” there are lots of students out there who feel a similar way about their ability to write. Feed your students a regular diet of hope and encouragement and you will see them improve.
Ask each student what they do well and what they struggle with. Ask them to identify something they’ve written that they felt proud of, even if that hasn’t happened since first grade.
Ask them to work with you to establish a writing goal and be ready with some suggestions. And this is important: As you interview the students, write down what they say. Show them the writing rubric you have created for grading or perhaps show them the state rubric, just for context, but don’t beat them over the head with it.
Whenever possible in teaching, focus on this idea as you think of how to dig into your student’s feelings: “Who is the expert on me? I am, teacher. I am.” So ask each of your students to explain to you how they feel about their writing. Take the time to get to the bottom of it. Change their hearts first, and then you will be able to change their minds.