Managing writing workshop cannot be reduced to a how-to formula. It is an on-going complex task that develops within the context of the classroom. – Carol Avery
Design – Teacher starts at the center
A major difference when using fluid conference circles is that as soon as an author's paper is critiqued, the author leaves the circle to apply the advice of his teacher and peers to the piece.
Bolstered by Carol Avery’s advice, I created fluid conference circles to draw on the strengths of the individual conference AND writing groups. I see them as fluid because the students are not assigned to a set group and the children come and go as they see the need. The teacher is always in the circle until the students become independent enough to run circles on their own, usually by midyear.
During revision workshop, everybody is getting a piece ready to publish. All students who are ready for a conference come with me to a corner of the room. The other students spread around the classroom to draft, read, work on their spelling or vocabulary lists, or rewrite on the computer or in the publishing center stocked with supplies.
Sometimes I have 10 students with me. Sometimes, I have one. Some days, no one needs a conference. It doesn’t matter. We make the circle fit the space and needs. The first student to share sits on my right side and the others bring their chairs and make a circle. Since we can't photocopy each paper, I can better facilitate the conversation by looking over the author's shoulder next to me. I engage the other students sitting in the circle in helping the writer in the “author’s seat.” Whoever is ready to conference on any given day participates in the fluid conference circle in the order in which they arrive.
Students come and go as needed
An effective writing group offers suggestions to participants to improve the writing. A major difference when using fluid conference circles is that as soon as an author’s paper is critiqued, the author leaves the circle to apply the advice of his teacher and peers to the piece. The child doesn’t stay to participate in the other conferences like in traditional writing groups. Waiting even a day usually means the writer loses track of the suggestions. Instead, the writer goes to a space and writes right away so forgetting isn’t an issue. While the suggestions are fresh, the child revises the story. Meanwhile, when one writer finishes and leaves, the children already in the circle get up and move clockwise in the chairs. The next person to share moves next to the teacher, similar to a one-on-one conference.
As other writers complete their pieces, each pulls a chair into the one conference circle in the classroom to join their classmates. In addition, sometimes students leave the circle before they conference. They leave to write because they learned how to improve their story just by listening to the suggestions given to others that day. They’ll be back after they make the changes they discovered while watching the modeling.
I also ask students who are distracting other writers in the room to join the conference circle. Students disrupting the flow of writing workshop usually just don’t have a writing idea they consider worthy. By listening to their peers, they will discover what to write.
NEXT: Getting Conference Circles started