Blogstitute Week 1: What We Talk About When We Talk About Writing

June 25th, 2012

We are  excited to kick off our Summer Blogstitute series with a post by Mark Overmeyer, author of When Writing Workshop Isn’t Working and What Student Writing Teaches Us and the DVD on conferring How Can I Support You?  Mark has written many times for the Stenhouse blog and in this post he explores how the language we use in writing workshop turns an assignment into a treasured opportunity to write, and a student into a writer.

Be sure to leave your comments and questions! Three lucky commenters during the blogstitute will receive a package of five books of their choice. You can also receive 20% off plus free shipping on all books and videos by blogstitute authors.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Writing

Summer: a time to reflect on our teaching practices, a time to read more and write more for us, not just for our students.

When I think of summer, I often think about the many times I have joined writing groups, either through the Denver Writing Project, the Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop (also here in Denver), or the summer I went to Port Townsend, Washington, to spend a week learning from Mark Doty, my favorite poet.”

All of these experiences have shaped me as a writer and as a teacher of writing, and in particular they strike me as places where so much talk about writing happens. When I first started writing and teaching writing, I never thought about the role that talk plays in our writing lives. Now I think about talk all the time when I think of writing.

So, what do we talk about when we talk about writing?

Here are just a few possibilities.

We talk about the work a writer is doing.

I have no idea if Mark Doty has read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset, but it sure seems as if he has. Dweck’s research on motivation shows that the more we equate success with being “good” or “smart,” the more we shut down motivation and progress. So, as a writing teacher, I have to be careful. Instead of saying “You are such a good writer!” I might say, “You are doing the work of a writer who really wants to convince your mom to buy you a dog.” In the writing workshop I attended with Mark Doty, he often talked about the “work” of a poem as something almost separate from the writer. He would say, “This poem works right here because . . .”  or, “It seems as if the poem is concerned with helping the reader understand that…”

I have tried this technique with many students since my experience in Mark’s workshop, and I have had success with them all the way down to the primary grades. Recently, I talked to second-grader Amina about an opinion piece she wrote during a unit on being a food critic:

Me: What have you been working on, Amina?

Amina: My piece about eating a goldfish cracker.

Me: Great. Can you read it to me?

Amina: In my opinion the goldfish made me feel wonderful. The goldfish made me feel like hitting a piñata! It’s very cheesy and it made me make up a goldfish dance.

Me: Amina, you worked hard as a writer today to make sure you didn’t just write: “It is delicious. I like it.” That’s exactly what we discussed—when we become food critics, we need to think like food critics, taste food like food critics, and write like food critics. That’s exactly what you did today. What do you plan to do next as a writer?

Amina: I am going to write about the tortilla chip.

Me: Okay—I hope it is as good as the goldfish cracker!

I am still working to make this kind of exchange sound more natural, but I can honestly say that students beam when I frame my talk in the context of doing the work of a writer. When the talk is framed around work, the writer can actually do something to get better, or to continue on the same successful path.

We talk about writers who are doing similar work.

When we study mentor texts and professional authors during a writing workshop, teachers have powerful opportunities to build confidence during conferences.

When I conferred with Aiden recently about his expert book on football, I was able to say, “You are doing the work of Gail Gibbons. You have diagrams of a football field on this page, and you include a lot of information in a ‘how-to’ format. This is what Gail Gibbons does—she thinks about how to teach us about something and then she makes sure the paper matches what she wants to teach.”

The expert book that Aiden completed during this study represented his best writing to date. He was motivated to keep working because he didn’t see this writing opportunity as an “assignment.”

Comparing student writing to the work of professional writers positions our instruction in the real world—what Katie Wood Ray calls “true writing” in her book Study Driven. Our students can create identities as writers at a very young age if we ask them to do what real writers actually do.

We talk about Skittles and Milo.

Two years ago, Madison wrote an essay titled “Skittles Is a Troublemaker” during the time I spent with her third-grade class. It is a piece I have never forgotten, and not just because Madison taught me that third graders can indeed write essays full of voice and passion and energy. She also taught me that the content of our pieces can help us make connections with writers. So when I say “We talk about Skittles,” what I really mean is that we talk about the content of our work.

When I confer with Barron about how much he loves Lakeside, a local amusement park, I learn about his favorite rides at the same time I learn about him as a writer. When I listen to Keoni share her story about the time she fell and banged her head on the concrete, I can picture her worried father’s face while I am learning about Keoni’s ability to craft a narrative.

I often write about my cat, Milo, when I work with students, or about walking my friend’s dog, Finn. Months may go by and I will be walking down the hall at a school, and a student will say “How’s Milo?” or “Have you seen Finn lately?”

This year, I had the opportunity to work again with Madison, who is now in fifth grade.

Me: How is Skittles?

Madison: He died.

Me: I am so sorry! Did you get another ferret?

Madison: No! He was so bad, we were worried about getting another ferret. Now we have a dog.

And, of course, I remembered how much trouble Skittles caused: chewing computer wires, ripping up socks and blankets, and trying to run away from home. I told Madison I feel like Skittles is almost famous because I talk about him in the context of the essay she wrote when I tell teachers about the possibilities essay writing can provide. I thanked her for her writing, and for sharing her thoughts about Skittles. She smiled. “How’s Milo?” she asked.

I wish for you a summer full of memories that can first be written, and then shared with your friends, family members, workshop members, and students. And I hope you have many opportunities to talk about writing.

Entry Filed under: Blogstitute,Writing

50 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Cathy Mere  |  June 25th, 2012 at 8:04 am

    Summer is the time for reflecting on our practice, catching up on our professional reads, and writing for our own purposes. It is important to note that much of what we capture in the summer then goes into our writer’s workshops as we sit beside young writers in the fall. When I write in the summer I think of the lessons I learned from my young writers. Which ones are important to share in next year’s writing community?

    You make wise points about changing the way we talk to writers about their work. I loved this quote, ” When the talk is framed around work, the writer can actually do something to get better.” My hope is always that conversations like the one you had with Amina in how she worked as a writer begins to be the way children talk about their own writing, and that of their peers, as they discover what works for them.


  • 2. Jessica Wisniewski  |  June 25th, 2012 at 8:19 am


    Thanks for kicking off this great learning and reflection opportunity for teachers! I’m here at the suggestion of Kate Messner at TeachersWrite, and I couldn’t be more pleased to read and absorb your blog topic today.

    I was reminded of the success that writing poetry has in opening up writers to themselves and each other again this year. I teach 6th grade language arts, and for the last few years, I’ve saved poetry until the end of the year – until my students had matured a little as writers. However, the discussions created by reading and deconstructing poetry, then using it as mentor text for writing, and finally asking students to style their own voice in poetry – well, those are the best learning discussions we have all year. They really encourage my students to trust each other and see each other as writers, feel free to share more personal things, and encourage each other to dig deeper. We developed our own language to speak about writing poetry, asking each other not to write “greeting cards” and “take out all the I’s and me’s and write about your topic”. I use some of Nancie Atwell’s lessons and use some of her speech as well, asking them to “cut to the bone” and use “effective repetition” and “intentional capitalization and punctuation”.

    I finally bit the bullet and admitted to myself that I’m cheating my students by waiting to work with poetry until the end of the year, like dessert. It causes such a change in their thinking about writing, that this year, I’ll be using it starting day one and throughout the year.

    I like the idea of making the “work” the focus of my language in response, and not sounding judgmental. It’s something I’m trying to develop more as a teacher myself. It does sometimes sound awkward, but I agree it pays off in the end.

    Looking forward to future learning opportunities!


  • 3. Robin  |  June 25th, 2012 at 8:43 am

    Thank you, Mark, for your blog post today. It seems like I keep stumbling on information that is exactly what I need to hear! I have been thinking a lot recently about the drawing and writing process for my kindergarten students. I’ve also been thinking about how to better use mentor texts in my teaching. Your post was perfectly timed. I want to be very intentional about how I talk to my students. I plan to be sure to talk about how they are “making” books at the beginning of the year because the word “making” is less intimidating than the word “writing” to a young child. I also want to use your words…talking about the work the writer is doing and recognizing that they are doing similar things as other authors they know, both professional authors and their peers as well.

  • 4. Tammy  |  June 25th, 2012 at 9:37 am

    I think conferring and what I say to my kiddos about their writing is probably the hardest part of writing and writing workshop for me. Your post gives greats insight, and makes me want to practice my queries, responses, and praise before I return to the classroom in August. It reminds me of the way Debbie Miller responds to students in her books.

  • 5. Valerie Ruckes  |  June 25th, 2012 at 9:55 am

    Reflection is so important and sometimes underestimated. Summer provides us with the perfect opportunity to reflect, rediscover, and reignite our teaching.

    I value the time that I spend conferring with my students about their writing. I learn so much about them through their writing and their stories. Connecting with them on a personal basis is so important and by doing so they are more open to instruction and learning. I’m given the gift of their stories and the journey they will go on to tell them.

    Your thoughts on what we talk about when we talk to our students about their writing, are important considerations. It’s easy to leave students with polite comments that do little to help them propel their writing forward. However, the true work comes in leaving them with something they can really use. I love when you said, ‘I can honestly say students beam when I frame my talk in the context of doing the work of a writer.’ That’s what I want for my beam and to know that they ARE writers.

  • 6. Barbara  |  June 25th, 2012 at 9:56 am

    Thank you for all the excellent points you make about the importance of talk in the writing. Too often, I forget how important this is. Thank you for the reminder!


  • 7. Patty  |  June 25th, 2012 at 11:15 am

    Thank you for framing the issue of talking about writing with so many wise tips. I am working on creating a writing workshop format for my high school classroom and I take to heart your discussion about talking about the work of the writing. Thanks for kicking off my summer work with such an uplifting piece!


  • 8. Sally  |  June 25th, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    Thanks for your great examples and the advice. I totally agree that it’s important to build up confidence with our words. I teach first graders and I love your idea of comparing their writing to that of a REAL author. As a child, I used to write letters to a classmate who had moved away. Her uncle was the famous author John O’Hara and her dad was a world famous newspaper reporter. I remember how I felt when I visited her family once and her dad complimented me on my letter writing! To this day, I love to write. So, I will definitely remember your advice. Another good phrase to use is “Be brave.” I forget where I read about it, but the idea was that when a child comes to you and asks for help spelling a simple word, instead of saying, “sound it out, use the word wall, look it up, etc.” we should say… “Be brave..give it a try.” Kids can do so much more on their own, if we just don’t squash them!

  • 9. Carmen  |  June 25th, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    HI Mark,

    I loved your post. However, would you always show thee mentor text before assigning an essay? Also, in the context of High School, how would you work through a literary analysis or informational essay? How do you get the reluctant writers to really engage in academic essays??
    Thanks again!


  • 10. Mark Overmeyer  |  June 25th, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    Thank you so much for taking the time away from your summer to respond to my blog entry. The comment about writing poetry early in the year, and then throughout the year, strikes me as something so many teachers tell me. We make the mistake, perhaps, of thinking that poetry is somehow an “extra” genre to save for the end of the year, but I could not agree more that it belongs as part of our regular practice as teachers of writing. I often teach poetry as a shorter genre in between longer pieces… it provides a kind of “length break” and a genre break as well. We can build student confidence with poetry, for sure.

    Many spoke about how difficult conferring can be. It can be, but I have learned to be calmer about conferring when I think of it as an opportunity to learn and not just something I must “get through.” Whenever we talk with students, we are learning about them as writers and as people. What a gift. We may never perfect our conferring, but by paying attention to how we frame thinking through language, we can get better.

    I often say that our students are apprentices, seeking to get better at writing every day through practice.

    Perhaps the same is true when we think being teachers of writing: we are all apprentices, seeking to get a little bit better every day, knowing full well that we can always learn more. We will never “arrive” or “finish”, but instead, we will just keep striving to get better.

    Happy summer!

  • 11. Stevi Quate  |  June 25th, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    Hi, Mark. As always I love to hear what you’re thinking about! Talk is incredibly important for all of us as we support kids moving from idea generation to final draft and as our own writing moves from idea to product. Today though something hit me as I was reading a portfolio of a teacher in Colorado Writing Project. She talked about how nervous she was reading her commentary to her group so she avoided looking at them. When she finished reading, she said the silence was palpable, and she knew her commentary had done what she had hoped it to do. So my aha moment was that sometimes the power of talk matters and sometimes the power of listening to the silence matters.

  • 12. Angela Redden  |  June 25th, 2012 at 1:28 pm


    I am glad that I happened upon your blog via Twitter. I am spending my summer reflecting on my practice and reading as much as possible, and your words have fueled my thoughts.

  • 13. Mrs. V  |  June 25th, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    I had been looking forward to this post and the rest of the summer series. I always enjoy reading example dialogues between students and teachers, so I am glad that you shared some in your post. Thinking carefully about how we are responding to students and the impact our words have on them is so vital. I am glad that you gave me more to consider. Thank you!

  • 14. Christy Rush-Levine  |  June 25th, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    What strikes me most about what you shared is the way writing alongside our students allows us to connect with them–as writers and as people. How’s Milo?

  • 15. Kristen  |  June 25th, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    I find when I reflect on my teaching, I often come back to using encouraging language. I thin I may take a look at Mindset.

  • 16. Jama  |  June 25th, 2012 at 7:59 pm

    Thank you for mentioning that the comment that someone’s writing is ‘good’ stifles their writing. I know that label is very unsatisfying to me because I prefer to hear specifically what someone likes about my writing, what speaks to them. Commenting on the work of the writing will definitely be a better track. I appreciate you bringing that to our attention. I also love your perspective that conference times are a time to learn. I lose track of the time when I am conferring with my first graders. Letting them share what they have written and how they decided to craft their words fascinates me. Choosing what one thing to say to spur them on is fun. Conferring to give a grade is the pits, though. Thanks for your insights!

  • 17. Maria  |  June 25th, 2012 at 8:13 pm

    Thank you for celebrating writers. I am thankful for virtual PD not only do I have time to process I can come back and read comments that help me grow. I have been doing Poetry Friday in my class and each year I build on different success stories. This year I saved some original poems for next year mentor text.

  • 18. Bev  |  June 25th, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    Writing with our students really does make a deeper connection. We can share happy or sad experiences, work together to solve problems. Love how you support your students in which ever way is needed at the moment.

  • 19. Hava  |  June 25th, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    I, too, came over from Teachers Write at Kate Messner. Thank you for the pointers on speaking to our young authors. I was told long ago that when you compliment, be specific. I think that is a part of what you recommend when talking about the works created by our students. It is very important when talking to Pre-K about their writing, even though their writing does not look like big people writing, that we give genuine feedback to what they communicate. Thank you for phrasing the response for us.

  • 20. Rose Cappelli  |  June 25th, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    Thanks for your wise thoughts, Mark. When I work with students, especially primary students, I work hard to make the writing I model be “just-right” for them. But I think sometimes I forget how important it is to pay attention to the talk I use as well. Small things like referring to writing as the work an author does, or referring to the students as writers can make all the difference. I love how you said “…by paying attention to how we frame thinking through language, we can get better.” Thanks for the reminder!

  • 21. Kelly Mogk  |  June 26th, 2012 at 2:51 am

    I love the idea of comparing student writing to professional author’s work! Especially when we are sharing these mentor texts with them, or when they are popular authors — the idea of being compared to a familiar writer is powerful!

  • 22. Marianne  |  June 26th, 2012 at 8:29 am

    Your share of how you worked with the students and their writing was very inspirational about how well children write when they share their own “slice of life.” For the past five years I’ve tried a large variety of writing workshop strategies to Six Traits to creating my own styles of lessons. It always does resonate the power of writing when it is personal and meaningful. I’m going to add your book, When Writing Workshop Isn’t Working, to my wishlist. I’ve been there more times than I wanted to be when “The Writing Workshop” methods just didn’t fit the way I wanted to teach writing. I’m always on the eternal quest to add to my lessons of ways to improve as teacher teaching writing. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • 23. Shauna  |  June 26th, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Thank you for sharing your insights about conferring with students. I loved your exchange with Amina. I’ve never thought of doing food criticism with children—what a wonderful way of practicing description! Thank you for the idea!

  • 24. Tara  |  June 26th, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Thank you for this thoughtful post, Mark. I especially liked this line:When the talk is framed around work, the writer can actually do something to get better, or to continue on the same successful path.
    With each passing teaching year, I’ve found that approaching my students from the angle of a fellow writer leads to the most productive conferring. Our relationships are much more writer to writer than simply teacher to student. This is what, I believe, allows for those “How’s Milo?” moments.

  • 25. Hello Kellee  |  June 26th, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    So many valuable nuggets here – thank you Mark & commenters! Confidence in conferring is still my biggest hurdle and is the focus for my summer learning. I really appreciate the dialogue samples. The language to use IS what makes the difference for my own confidence and the students I’m coaching. Can’t wait for the next installment!

  • 26. Laura Komos  |  June 27th, 2012 at 11:25 am

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Mark. I just returned from the All Write convention in Warsaw, Indiana, and so much of what you wrote about solidified what I heard there. Katie Wood Ray talked about using kids’ writing as mentor texts as well as comparing their writing to that of authors we study. I’d agree that It is so important for us to talk about our writing and to share that with students. Thanks!

  • 27. Pat Wilkinson  |  June 27th, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Yes, talk about Skittles and Milo! The most valuable part of conferring for me is talking with my students about the content of their work. I love this sharing time because it provides me with the opportunity to truly connect with my students and get to know their unique personalities. Also, thank you for the insight on framing our talk around the work. I want to work on this to help my students with their writing.

  • 28. Linda Baie  |  June 28th, 2012 at 7:00 am

    I enjoyed your words with students in conferring, helping them to realize that we are all in this “writing thing” together as you talk. These words “Our students can create identities as writers at a very young age if we ask them to do what real writers actually do.” show that. No more pretend, just write to tell stories, to share what is meaningful, like Skittles and the fall. Great stuff!

  • 29. Carolee Hayes  |  June 29th, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    I wish I had had your wisdom when I was in the classroom. You make the connections between reading, writing, speaking, and listening clear and strong. I enjoyed your personal examples and the connections you Dweck’s work. Thanks for your thoughts.

  • 30. Allison G.  |  June 29th, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    1. I agree–In my school’s Write From the Beginning program students verbally share their writing with a partner. I have found that students who use this step can hear their own story and find areas that need work. Their writing improves tremendously. 2. Also, having students become “writers” fits with Sandra Kaplan’s idea of differentiated teaching and thinking like the disciplinarian. 3. Yes, even primary students can write with voice. My heart melts when my second graders do this. Teaching writing can be challenging, but the rewards are worth it! Mark, thanks for this forum.

  • 31. Beth Wartrzenluft  |  June 29th, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    What a breath of fresh summer air it was to read your post tonight…on a warm, humid, sultry, evening in Wisconsin. Rolling thunder growls in the distance and all I want to do is grab a pen, sink into the hammock and simply be…and feel…and write!
    I can’t wait to share it with the kids!
    Ode to a Summer Night???

  • 32. Nicole medina  |  June 29th, 2012 at 10:54 pm

    One of the first things you wrote was summer is a time to write more for us, not just our students. It caused me to consider a roadblock in my teaching life. As an Instructional Coach I work with many teachers who have a strong reading background – meaning they read a lot and have many ways to connect with students’ reading lives. However, they/we generally feel “weak” in writing. After reading your post, I realized that we don’t talk about our writing life with each other or our students. I’m wondering, how you would generate this sort of talk among teachers?
    Nicole 🙂

  • 33. Anne  |  June 29th, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    I like the way you acknowldege how we continue to refine the talk we have with students so it sounds more like a conversation, but a conversation that delivers specific feedback that the student can take to the next piece they write.
    ‘We talk about writers who are doing similar work’ is an area of conferencing I know I will be working to improve.

  • 34. Sloane Castleman  |  June 30th, 2012 at 6:27 am

    I am so excited to have stumbled across this blog! I think conferring with youngsters about their writing is some of the most challenging work we do ws teachers! I am so grateful for your tips and inspiration!!

  • 35. Christine McCarrick  |  June 30th, 2012 at 8:55 am

    Thank you for your blog article. It came at a great time as I am 1 week into teaching summer school for struggling students. I will incorporate your tips during our writing sessions as motivating students to write can be so challenging. I appreciate your perspective and sharing it with us teachers!

  • 36. Lisa  |  June 30th, 2012 at 9:06 am

    I was struck by the conversations that can happen during conferring revealing what we care about, what matters to our students. These are what help us to deepen our relationships make teaching and learning a real life event. Writing workshop has always been the time in teaching when I have felt all of us are allowed to be ourselves. Your tips about keeping that personal connection but raising it up to lead to improving writing are very helpful.

  • 37. Betsy Sweeney  |  June 30th, 2012 at 10:20 am

    Hi Mark,
    Thank you for reminding us of the importance of mentor texts aand inviting authors into classrooms with their words. I felt like your words reinforced what I tried to do last fall and it reinforces what kind of teacher I want to be.

  • 38. Tom Adams  |  June 30th, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Mark and Stenhouse:

    So happy to spend part of my Saturday morning “listening” to fellow teachers of writing. So, as a way of giving back, and to preserve the wisdom of the above posts for future reference, I offer here the gems that I came across as I read. Thank you for these.

    1. Talk to students about the writing, rather than about them as writers. Not “it’s good” but what it does–the feelings, images, experiences that the writing conveys.

    2. Talk about what other writers are doing–be they peers, professionals, or ourselves–as references that can broaden the student writer’s consideration as he writes, or affirm the student’s effort. A trove of mentor texts is a handy tool for the writer and the writing instructor.

    3. Talk about the content of the writing as a way to personalize the relationship between reader and writer and loosen the “graphite tongues” of young writers. There’s nothing like a responsive audience to send the writer back to the page with joy and purpose, offsetting the inevitable concern and befuddlement the blank page often conjures among writers.

    4. “. . . take out all the I’s and me’s and write about your topic.” Use “effective repetition” and “intentional capitalization and punctuation.”

    5. Poetry provides a great springboard for discussion and discovery of one’s own writing voice. “We can build student confidence with poetry, for sure.”

    6. “Making” books sounds less intimidating than “writing” books when announcing student projects.

    7. “It’s easy to leave students with polite comments that do little to help them propel their writing forward. However, the true work comes in leaving them with something they can really use.”

    8. “Students beam when I frame my talk in the context of doing the work of a writer.” We want our students to beam and to know that they ARE writers.

    9. Instead of answering students’ queries directly with the accumulated expertise of a writing teacher’s tool chest, try saying “Be brave. Give it a try.” Empower rather than enable.

    10. “Whenever we talk with students, we are learning about them as writers and as people. What a gift. We may never perfect our conferring, but by paying attention to how we frame thinking through language, we can get better.
    I often say that our students are apprentices, seeking to get better at writing every day through practice.”

    11. As a writer, I prefer to hear specifically what someone likes about my writing, what speaks to them. Commenting on the work of the writing, keeping the focus on the product, rather than on the producer, is definitely the way to go when conferring with students.

    12. Consult past student writing to find mentor text samples.

    13. Write beside them.

    14. The idea of being compared to a familiar writer is powerful!

    15. “I’ve never thought of doing food criticism with children—what a wonderful way of practicing description!”

    16. Students who verbally share their writing with a partner can hear their own story and find areas that need work. Their writing improves tremendously.

    17. Conferring with youngsters about their writing is some of the most challenging–and important–work we do as teachers.

  • 39. Elisa Waingort  |  June 30th, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    Your post resonated with me as I take some time this summer to writing for myself and to think about writing instruction for my students (Sorry, can’t get away from at least thinking about it!). You make a valid point when you comment that we need to talk about the work that writers do and the work of writing when we confer with children. Too often, we are hurried or don’t have a clue what to say and try to get by with, “Wow! That’s great,” and walk away. We hope no one will notice that we haven’t really said anything of import as we surf the room, trying to “hit” as many students as we possibly can in a short time. Again, naming and describing to children what they are doing in their writing is so important. I need to remember to do more of this and to make it conversational at the same time.

  • 40. Cheryl E Elligan-Brown  |  June 30th, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    Your comments on reflecting on our own writing and reading more to contribute ideas about how we write are things I do as an educator. I have written for Flint Hill Writing Project in the past and often keep a journal nearby to capture ideas when they appear to me. One of the questions I have is how do we get students to really look and reflect on the things that we write or say especially when we want them to make comments about their own writing? Teaching high school is challenging when students skip the comments and look straight for the grade. Even we go back and try to do focused revision on particular parts of a rubric or of sections of their writing, students tend not to go deeper than the surface. If you can share some tips or some approaches I could use to help students develop their writing through the feedback I give them it would be great.

  • 41. Janelle Price  |  June 30th, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    Mark’s work is refreshing and insightful. Currently I am researching how to conduct student conferences for my Writer’s Project seminar (Western PA) and his work was the first information I have found dealing with actual talking–verbiage. I have found a lot of statistics stating how much better students work on their writing and score better when a teacher conferences with them, but not much on how to properly conduct a conference–discuss errors, crack open sections, etc. Plus how much can you or should you point out–should you have students take notes–so many questions!!! However, thanks Mark for the start.

  • 42. Tammy Delaney  |  June 30th, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    Loved reading the post and all the comments. I can’t wait to make my conferring better through the strategies discussed. Thanks for sharing!

  • 43. Larnette Snow  |  July 1st, 2012 at 6:48 am

    Mark, thank you so much for these valuable insights. I am a librarian and I love to use writing in my lesson plans throughout the school year not only because I think writing is important, but because it gives me the opportunity to get to know my students better – to glean those personal insights. I will especially try this year to work hard at my vocabulary in order to help the students see themselves as writiers!

  • 44. Beth  |  July 1st, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    Writing is the hardest thing I teach. Thank you for making it look easy. I like the. Positive feedback with my young writers. It will make them feel like writers and therefore help improve their writing or make it better.

  • 45. Heidi  |  July 1st, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    I feel that scoring students work is not beneficial. I feel comments like yours are much stronger.

  • 46. Tom Pearce  |  July 2nd, 2012 at 9:02 am

    I recently ran across a quote, (pardon me I lost the reference) about praise. “Praise keeps you in the game, it doesn’t help you get better.” Those words have really been on my mind. I recognize a kernel of truth in the expression, yet it has been leaving me feeling that something is still missing. Reading your writing today brings a clearer focus. Praising the “quality” of the work in quantifying terms-good, not good, as if we could fill it a bit fuller- doesn’t help a writer get better. But, recognizing the child’s intention in their writing and comparing their craft to an aclaimed writer puts down another stone that invites the burgeoning writer to eagerly anticipate the next steps. Hooah!

  • 47. Cindy Henderson  |  July 2nd, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    Thanks for simplifying what good teachers do while conferring. The responsive feedback is not only descriptive but motivates students to write about topics that are dear to them. As we sit with students, we need to take the time to truly listen to the writer’s message, showing our belief that all students can be good writers. By naming their strengths and providing guidance for the next possible step(s) towards improvement, students can’t help but grow. Personally writing and sharing our work with the class, assists us in becoming more credible and grants us deeper insight into ways that our student writers can achieve.

  • 48. Sharen McArthur  |  July 5th, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    After teaching high school English for 18 years, I am transferring to a middle school to teach 7th grade language arts. One thing I have been thinking about is how to teach writing to younger writers. Reading your blog has inspired me. I want to encourage my students to be writers, and your idea of talking with them as real writers, writers who work in certain ways, holds the key to my success with them. Thank you.

  • 49. Tracy  |  July 9th, 2012 at 9:05 am

    In addition to all the insight this post and responses have generated about conferring, talking about writing, and mentor texts, I also appreciated the comment, “…Madison taught me that third graders can indeed write essays full of voice and passion and energy.” This is so true!! I think many people underestimate the powerful writing that elementary, and primary, students are capable of doing. Young children are adept at storytelling…what better way to harness that skill than to steer it toward writing.

  • 50. Thing #6 | Room 132 Adven&hellip  |  July 10th, 2012 at 10:17 am

    […] Publishers. I connected to this site through exploring one of our assigned reader sites. Check out Blogstitute Week 1: What We Talk About When We Talk About Writing written by Mark Overmeyer. I read this before going on vacation on June 29th and two more posts […]

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