Pupil conference: meet children where they are

The conversations with the writers in my classroom feels satisfying, genuine and useful. -Nancie Atwell

Description of the principle

A rich response to children’s writing is crucial.

Many teachers use both written and verbal feedback. Research particularly emphasises the usefulness of ‘live’ verbal feedback, which is immediate, relevant and allows children to reflect on and attend to learning points while actually still engaged in their writing. It is seen as superior to ‘after-the-event’ written feedback (Ferguson & Young 2020).

Verbal feedback is given through conferences, which will be short and are most successful in a settled, focused and self-regulating classroom.

Teachers give feedback initially on composition and prioritise those who are in most need of assistance. Only later into the child’s process do they attend to transcriptional issues.

Finally, writer-teachers are better able to advise and give feedback because they understand from personal experience the issues children encounter when writing.

What Writing For Pleasure teachers do

  • Teachers believe that a rich response to children’s writing was crucial. Whilst they use both written and verbal feedback, they particularly emphasize the usefulness of ‘live’ verbal feedback, which they feel is immediate, relevant and allows the child to reflect on and attend to learning points raised while still actually engaged in their writing.
  • Conferences are short, friendly, supportive and incredibly positive. The children look forward to these ‘conversations’ because they know they will receive genuine praise for and celebration of the writing goals they are achieving and also good advice as to how they can improve their developing compositions further.
  • The teachers are able to undertake pupil-conferencing in a systematic way and are successful because their children and classrooms are settled, focused, highly-organised and self-regulating. Behavioural expectations are also made very clear.

Reviewing your practice:questions to consider

  • How do you make children feel emotionally secure and that they can talk with them about their writing?
  • How do you conduct pupil-conferencing in a systematic way and appreciate this is the most effective way of giving feedback?
  • How do you listen carefully to children’s writing issues before giving direct and clear advice on how to deal with it – ensuring the child feels confident in enacting the advice before moving leaving?
  • How do you provide conferences which have an ‘enabling’ feeling about them – with self-regulation clearly a high priority?
  • Do you use group conferencing by trying to bring ‘overhearers’ into any conversation that may be fruitful to the children involved?
  • Do you discuss writing through a mastery rather than a performance perspective?
  • How do you focus on the writing goals achieved in a child’s writing and also set new ones?
  • How do you provide feedback and writerly advice to children during class sharing time?
  • Do you use after-the-event written feedback only when they feel it will make a difference?

Examples from the classroom

How’s It Going? Getting Started With Pupil Conferencing

Mr Creighton, can we send our stories to some experts for feedback?

Book-making In Nursery

Supporting resources

  • Our Guide To Pupil-Conferencing With 3-11 Year Olds: Powerful Feedback & Responsive Teaching That Changes Writers [LINK]
  • No more: ‘My pupils can’t edit!’ A whole-school approach to developing proof-readers [LINK]

Suggested further reading

  • Young, R., Ferguson, F., (2018) How to run a good pupil conference Teach Primary article [LINK]
  • Kaufman, D., Young, R. (2022) The components of an effective writing lesson [LINK]

Be reassuringly consistent

This chapter explores the essential role feedback plays in developing writers. The chapter discusses the powerful position teachers hold when giving feedback and how it can positively or negatively impact on children’s dispositions towards being a writer, their writing performance, and their long-term academic achievement. The authors then share what constitutes high-quality feedback and discuss the benefits and limitations of both verbal and written feedback. Pupil conferencing is then afforded its own dedicated exploration, with specific focus on the relationship between conferencing and responsive teaching. The advantageous and unique position writer-teachers hold in delivering high-quality pupil conferences is explored, and finally the authors share examples of effective practice from the classrooms of high-performing Writing For Pleasure teachers.

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How Real-World Writers works

This chapter makes the case for providing regular, specific and rich verbal feedback to young writers. Conferences are conversations between writer and writer which can challenge, set targets and help achieve writing goals. For conferences to be effective, children need to see their teachers as a trusted fellow writer who is there to give careful direct instruction which helps them to develop their pieces but does not judge or correct them. The chapter helps teachers to draw on their own experiences as a writer-teacher when giving advice and discusses the powerful impact this can have on developing young writers’ progress and academic achievements. Through real-life examples, the chapter gives clear advice on how you can encourage children in profitable dialogic talk and help them to see writing as a social process. Finally, the chapter explains how a good conference has a definite and specific structure which promotes children’s self-regulation and leaves them with something practical to apply in moving their writing forward. It also discusses classroom organisation, common issues, behavioural expectations, classroom practicalities and the potential for peer conferencing.

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