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Citation: Anderson, Carl. (2009). Strategic Writing Conferences: Smart Conversations That Move Young Writers Forward. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. (DVD).

Title: Strategic Writing Conferences: Smart Conversations That Move Young Writers Forward
Year: 2009
Publisher: Heinemann
City: Portsmouth, NH
Medium: Book with DVD
Author(s): Anderson, Carl
Grades: Third Grade to Sixth Grade
Category: Writing Conferences Writing Partnerships and Peer Conferences
Annotation: Literacy coaches and teachers in intermediate grades (and in middle school) who are already comfortable with writing workshop will find that Carl’s books will help you take writing conferences to a whole new level. This collection of six books and DVDs by Carl Anderson could be titled, “Everything you wanted to know about writing conferences and were afraid to ask!” Tucked in a clear plastic binder, these materials are a curriculum resource, a diagnostic guide, and a resource for professional development. Fortunately for us, Carl tackles some of our greatest challenges as writing teachers by focusing on how to confer with students in grades three to six as they generate topics, draft ideas, revise, and edit. In the Teacher’s Guide, he provides a philosophical foundation for conferences based on a gradual release model.

If you can’t talk Carl into coming to your school, this resource is the next best thing. The DVD about introducing strategic writing conferences allows you and your colleagues to eavesdrop on 11 of his writing conferences with students. As a teacher leader, literacy coach or principal, you may want to share sample conference clips at a staff meeting or workshop. Teachers will be able to observe Carl in action as he listens to each writer at various stages of the writing process and skillfully nudges students to consider why and how to make their writing stronger. Carl is the expert in modeling for us how to focus on the writer not the writing. For example, when one student was stuck and unsure of what to write, Carl asks the boy to revisit his writing to identify his writing territories – topics that he continuously returns to in his writing - so that this growing writer can understand he does not have to start a new topic every day. Rather than “fixing” the immediate problem, Carl has given this young writer a strategy he can apply to many writing tasks down the road.

Most books talk about writing conferences in general terms, but Carl Anderson has included an introductory book and three conference books about three stages of writing (identifying topics, crafting drafts, and polishing finished projects), along with diagnostic guides to help you identify each student’s needs, along with annotations of over 100 conferences. Each booklet includes specific model texts (aligned to the focus of the conference), ideas for sharing our own writing with students, as well as explanations of the strategy for students. He models for us how to assess our students, diagnose their needs, and then scaffold their next steps through writing conferences.

One of the most powerful aspects of these four booklets is how Carl shares his own writing with students in order to illustrate his writing process and to showcase possibilities. By including his own work, he models the power of sharing authentic pieces harvested from our own writing lives. At the heart of Strategic Writing Conferences is the belief in the responsive nature of teaching and conferring.

This comprehensive kit is filled with numerous conference scripts and video clips. In the booklet entitled, Finished Projects, on pages 51 – 54, Carl provides the script of himself coaching two students who are learning how to use feedback from a partner in a peer revision conference. This conference is also shown in a video clip. Watching the video clip and reflecting on the script will inspire you in your conferring, as well as provide a visual of how to coach peer conferences as you watch and listen to Carl to use his own writing as a model, explain a strategy about giving and using peer feedback, and then coach the pair as they try out a peer conference.

Pages 146-150 in "How’s It Going?" might be helpful as an introduction to the concept of writing partnerships. Carl Anderson notes that classrooms from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Workshop have begun using “writing partnerships” as a beginning step in the process of peer response. The “partnership” has a brief turn-and-talk right after the teaching part of the mini lesson to engage in thinking and sharing about how they might use the teaching point in their writing for the day. He also mentions that if you feel that your students are ready for actual peer conferences in which they are giving specific feedback, the best way to teach them is to “fishbowl” the process. This means that the one group of peers (pairs or a small group) would sit in the middle of a circle of the rest of the class. You would give a small amount of background information; then you would ask the peers to begin to confer. Throughout their conference you would periodically briefly stop them and name the moves they are using to the rest of the class. And you might even stop in the middle of their conference and teach them how to improve.