|Mentor Texts and Charts
“Assessment is the thinking teacher’s mind work. It is the intelligence that guides our every moment as a teacher.” –Calkins
Assessment is thoughtful work that informs all teachers do. Working with kids each day involves constant assessment. Teachers examine students’ responses to their instruction; then they use this information to make changes to their teaching. This kind of on the spot instructional decision making is known as formative assessment. In the book, Writing Pathways, Lucy Calkins (2013) states, “The research is clear that the one factor that matters more than anything in determining whether students’ levels of achievement accelerate is the quality of your teaching. You need to teach responsively” (p.3). In a writing workshop classroom, the primary time teachers assess is when they confer. One way teachers can ensure they are teaching responsively is to bring everything they need to instruct students with them as they confer.
To respond quickly to the needs of students in a conference, there are certain items teachers will want to carry with them. In other words, teachers will want to create a conferring toolkit. A conferring toolkit includes some or all of the following items:
- Record Keeping System (a must-have)
- Cheat Sheets
- Mentor Texts
Record Keeping System
The most important component of a conferring toolkit is the record keeping system. Keeping records helps teachers tailor their instruction to meet the needs of every child, ensures they are meeting with all of their students equitably, enables teachers to group students with similar needs together to form small groups, and assists them in determining upcoming minilessons for the group.
Keeping records is highly personal. A system that works for one teacher may not be useful to another. Teachers who are new to keeping anecdotal notes or unhappy with their current system may want to examine the various forms linked to this module (see Facilitator’s Notes).
The forms we have included are designed to support handwritten notes. However, many teachers prefer to use a digital record keeping system. Some applications that are popular for this include:
Some of the advantages of a digital record keeping system include the ability to take pictures of student’s writing and save it in the application, a device to record students reading their writing (to review later or share with parents), and the ability to share records with other teachers (very helpful to coaches).
Conferring is considered by many teachers to be the most difficult part of workshop teaching. Knowing how to structure a successful conference and what content to teach is tough. One way teachers can help themselves is to carry cheat sheets to refer to as they work with students (see Facilitator’s Notes for links to cheat sheets).
Structure Cheat Sheet
As mentioned in the Conference Module, most successful conferences follow a predictable structure. This structure has five distinct parts: research, decide, compliment, teach, and link. Carrying a cheat sheet, such as the one below, helps remind teachers to include these parts every time they confer.
Conference Cheat Sheet
COMPLIMENT (Notice and Name)
TEACH the writer something, following the architecture of a mini-lesson
LINK: Rearticulate what you’ve taught and encourage the child to do this often as he or she writes
Based on How’s it Going? By Carl Anderson, (Heinemann, 2000).
Content Cheat Sheet
In addition to knowing how to conduct or structure a successful conference, teachers will also need to know what to compliment and teach in conferences, or how to address content. The following writing qualities are important to teach:
A cheat sheet filled with questions about these writing qualities is a helpful resource. Teachers may want to consider these questions as they read a child’s piece and are determining their compliment and teaching point. If the teacher reads the questions and comes to one where the answer is “no”, then she may want to consider if this would make a good teaching point (she should always try to follow the child’s lead first). If she reads and finds the answer to a question is “yes”, then this may be something she might consider as a compliment for the child. Teachers should note that conventions are last on this list because there is a lot more to writing well than correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Teachers should focus on the most important writing qualities first.
|What to teach in a conference?
Taken from Learning from Classmates: Using Students’ Writing as Mentor Texts By Lisa Eickholdt, (Heinemann, 2015).
Once a teacher has determined the most powerful thing to teach a student in a conference, she must be prepared to show the child how to execute this new writing technique. One simple way to demonstrate is to use a mentor text as a model. There are several types of mentor texts teachers can use including children’s literature, examples of the teacher’s own writing, or a piece of student mentor text. As teachers prepare this part of their kit, they will find it helpful to use sticky notes to label the craft in key parts of their mentor texts. These labels will allow them to quickly find their examples when they need them.
Once the teacher decides on her teaching point, she will want to name and explain it to the student. As she is explaining the writing technique, she may want to use a visual aid to help clarify her instruction. Mini-charts are a useful tool for this. Mini-charts are often smaller versions of the anchor charts teachers have posted in their classrooms. However, carrying a mini-version ensures quick accessibility for teachers and better visibility for the student. Many teachers use an artist’s sketchbook to create and store their mini-charts.
In addition to having items to assess and instruct, the teacher will also want to carry some common writing tools with her to help students work on their writing. Common supplies include:
- Sticky notes to add in text
- Speech bubble shaped sticky notes to make characters talk/think in pictures
- Pens (see the link below for a post on pens vs. pencils)
- Labels or white out tape for cover ups
- Strips of paper to add text
- Tape to stick in strips of paper
- Blank writing pages to add text
- A small stapler to staple in extra pages
- A staple remover to remove staples and reorder or remove pages
In a conference, the teacher will want to get the child started doing the new work. Having the right tool at her fingertips (perhaps in a small caddy or in a clipboard with storage inside) makes this job quicker and easier.