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A day of in-person writing conferences

 I’m a big fan of Google Docs, but when it comes to helping students with their writing, in-person conferences still can’t be beat.

Today, I spent my lunch and after-school time helping ninth graders with their writing conventions and MLA formatting.

My colleague Nancy Jo, who is doing a great job getting her students to internalize the basic essay structure, asked me to be available on a first-come, first-served basis for conferencing. I happily agreed.

Five students took her up on her offer.

Here’s what I concluded:

1. Ninth graders are super polite and eager to improve their writing skills. Each student took their 10-minute conference seriously and listened deeply to my suggestions. Are ninth graders nicer when I’m not teaching them?

2. Errors in writing conventions are very predictable. Most ninth graders have trouble leading into evidence. They also use contractions and the second person in formal academic writing. And they have trouble figuring out where to put the comma after an introductory clause.

3. Working with students one on one is crucial. I can assure you that the five students who worked with me today will remember the three little things each that I tried to teach them. That’s because we did it live and in person. Unfortunately, this kind of work is impossible to achieve in greater numbers.

4. It’s better to talk than to edit. The urge is to circle and correct all the errors. But that doesn’t teach the student anything. Instead, I scanned the students’ essays, noted patterns, and began there. The students learned more by finding their own errors and practicing their own editing skills.

Teaching writing — especially conventions — is hard. There has to be a combination of direct instruction, practice, online work, and in-person conferencing.

Today, I felt effective and respected, thanks to a wonderful colleague who pushed her students to seek me out as a resource. The students, too, reminded me of the important work we do together. 


  1. Beth Silbergeld

    I think that we should be doing more conferencing as well. I was coaching students on their exhibition and was able to discuss some critical issues. The learning is vibrant, although difficult to measure. With the pending deadline of the exhibition, the conferencing time is limited, but I’m hoping to work with advisors to embrace this practice next year. Silb

  2. Mark Isero

    I totally agree, Silb. Because students shun office hours, we need to figure out a more systematic way for students to get one-on-one help. There has to be an agreement between the student and the teacher that the tutoring is not punitive and that it can lead to some wonderful learning.

Please share your brilliant insights!