Kristin Ackerman and Jen McDonough: Conferring With Young Writers What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

By, Jenn Hayhurst

On October 27, 2016 #G2Great celebrated Kristin Ackerman and Jen McDonough’s beautiful new book, Conferring with Young Writers What to Do When You Don’t Know to Do. Kristin and Jen’s work brought us together to think deeply about what young writers need, and how to tap into conferring to encourage independence.

During the chat I imagined teachers everywhere thinking about conferring and the writing process as they dedicated more of their lives to the art of teaching.  I am struck by an overwhelming sense of well-being as I think of all these literacy leaders who are pushing themselves to learn long after the school day has ended. I truly believe that educators who actively read and write every day are a force for good in an otherwise challenging world.

We read. We write. We grow…

Writers need...

Lori Sabo ( reminded us that “writers write” and that we all need to take time to devote energy to the actual act of writing. Her words of wisdom reached out to us, asking us all to remember that any literacy learning begins and ends in the service of comprehension:

Living a writerly life…

What can we do to build routines and structures for writing?  Linda Hoyt  suggested that we should practice what we preach. If our students need to write then so do we. We can all be writing role models who work in partnerships with our students, showing them how to be resilient writers who understand how to work through struggle:  

Structures for Conferring…

The chat moved into a bigger discussion about how we organize our instructional day to support conferring. Kym Harjes-Velez shared her system with us.  Conferring may be complex but classroom structures can be easily managed and simple to keep up:


Jessica Maffetone reminded us all that learning to become a  writer is a process that is completely aligned with growth.  The beautiful thing about writing is that as we confer with our students we see their skill develop over time. It is both introspective and collaborative at the same time.  Kristin and Jen never promised us that this work would be easy, but this is what teaching is all about:


There are many pieces that make conferring work well. We know that being a keen “kidwatcher” is an essential skill that we grow over time. Jen McDonough focused the conversation on another important piece, having tools at the ready to help students become independent once the conference ends:


As Kitty Donohoe so wisely observed, learning and  agency go hand-in-hand. We really do learn best in the company of others.  A collaborative and creative process is the mainstay of the world our young writers will inherit. Their work becomes meaningful when we create environments that that are built around community and work:

Kristin Ackerman added onto this thinking when she shared how they are using students’ reflections as another great teaching tool:


When we celebrate student writing as mentors we are elevating our own practice. Courtney Kinney shared how she uses student writing to teach others.  It is so true that we are at the pinnacle of our practice when we use students’ work to teach. Having student writing on hand as we confer places their voices at the center of the writing workshop, it sends the message their work matters and has an impact:


Thank you Kristin and Jen. Your book really got the conversation going and made us all think of the power that skilled teachers can bring to conferring. You reminded us that our conferring work builds community through strong relationships.    As I end this post I think about our growing #G2Great PLN. We are teachers, we are administrators, we are authors, and we are all dedicated to the art of teaching as we keep our students at the center of all that we do.





Holding Tight to the Practices That Matter: Spotlight on Conferring

Guest Blog Post by JoAnne Duncan @joanneduncanjo

On 2/18/16 #G2Great spotlighted Conferring

Am I excellent at yoga? No. Am I excellent at conferring? Not yet. But every time I confer with a child I feel the magic.

Conferring is a practice that transforms the complexities of teaching and learning into a joyful, magical experience. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting about conferring and wondering what makes it so magical. As I reflect on this question, I find three common areas that make conferring a practice we need to hold tight. Conferring is about building relationships, trust, and responsive differentiated instruction.


Conferring creates opportunities to build strong, caring relationships.  A simple yet powerful first step in conferring is to slow down, sit alongside a child, look into their eyes with a warm smile and ask, “How’s it going with your reading today?” In five short minutes we can learn so much about each of our students. This sends a message that we really care about them. When we make ourselves present in the moment by listening, observing and admiring, we come to a deeper appreciation of how unique each child truly is. That is magical.


Conferring provides opportunities for students to trust our coaching and intentions. As they  trust us, they begin to trust their own thinking and develop skills and strategies to become independent, joyful, proficient readers. Conferring also provides us with an opportunity to begin to trust our own abilities to notice, compliment, wonder and provide just right feedback to move the reader forward. It isn’t about trusting a program or a script but trusting ourselves, the reader and the process. That is magical.

Responsive Differentiated Instruction

Conferring is student-centered, differentiated instruction at its best.  Conferring begins with a student centered mindset. We meet that student, at that moment, exactly where they are. We notice, listen, celebrate, and guide them with next steps. Each student gets what they need. Dylan’s tweet reminds us that conferring, zooming in and focusing can be like taking beautiful snapshots of our readers. That is magical.

2) Dylan

Hold tight to conferring. Make it a daily priority. Fran Mcveigh reminds us that conferring is where the magic happens. Some of us may not be excellent at conferring…yet. But when we slow down, build relationships, trust, and provide responsive differentiated instruction, this is where the magic happens. When we are conferring we are connecting. Whether we are conferring with readers, writers, colleagues, or friends, we are all side by side, learning, growing, talking, listening, and planning.
…And that is magical.

4) Fran

Teachers celebrating the magic of conferring