I had high hopes of launching writer’s workshop in my first-grade classroom this semester, but I am now on to plan B. Someone told me I was a real teacher working with real kids and I might need to just take one small step instead of one giant leap. I took my small step this week by having writing conferences with some of my students. I will share one interaction that took place.

Pete chose to write about his favorite thing about winter using a writing prompt sheet I downloaded for free at http://www.thisreadingmama.com. I know! Writing prompts are a big no-no in writer’s workshop, but I just put it there in case they needed it. When he came over to me, I noticed the only period he had was at the very end, so we worked on conventions. I had him to point and reread what he wrote. I asked him to listen and stop his finger where he thought a period might need to be. His finger just kept on going until he got to the end of his writing. So I pointed and read stopping at appropriate places. We had a discussion about the need for a period at the end of a thought and he added the periods (total of 3) to his writing.

I then noticed he had left out a comma and quotation marks when he spoke in the writing. I had him go get his book box. I selected one that had dialogue and asked him if he had ever noticed when someone spoke in the book, there was a comma after said followed by quotation marks. He told me he had noticed them, but forgot what they were for. Pete added the comma and quotation marks to his writing. The comma may have been a stretch to teach to a first-grader, but I felt he definitely needed to know about quotation marks.

I also noticed that he did not capitalize the first letter of his snowman’s name. He smiled and told me he just forgot. After he fixed that, his writing was perfect. He wrote the entire piece by himself spelling every word after the prompt correctly. As you can see in the picture, he is a perfectionist.  I taught Pete last year in kindergarten. I know I taught him how to use a period and capitalize names. I wonder since I am not present during their writing time, if this is a side effect. I dare say it is. 

Although I did not have to correct any spelling mistakes, I wonder how other teachers feel about correcting spelling on their students’ finished writing. Is writing the correct spelling above or below the misspelled word a good thing or a bad thing?




4 thoughts on “When things go wrong, go to plan B

  1. Taking a big leap always feels so exciting! However, sometimes we get in the classroom with all of the students and it feels like a we have been abandoned in the middle of the ocean with no lifeboat. All those little eyes look at you, totally confused. So sometimes we do take a step back and everything works out in the end.

    Conferencing seemed to be a rewarding time for you based on the conversation you shared. I like how you had him find the quotations from a book in his own book box. I just introduced these to my students who were reading a level d book last week. I agree it is a big deal for early readers to know the meaning of quotation marks.

    With spelling, I try as much as I can in kindergarten to let them invent the spelling of their words. Afterward when they read their words back to me, I write the whole sentence underneath or on the next line, only if their were mistakes. Then they read the whole sentence that I wrote. I try to not throw right out, “Yes, Pete you did write these words correctly, but look at this one word that is wrong. I know it isn’t intentional, but that’s how I feel it sounds. When they read the whole sentence, they are just reading again. Once students are writing a paragraph on their own I would not do this unless the sentence didn’t even make sense. I support this from when I taught second grade. When I wrote a word correctly and conferenced about phrases not making sense in a 1-2 page piece. They would rewrite the whole thing wrong again. This is why I just began writing the whole sentence with proper spelling and mechanics for them to read and track to make it their own.


  2. Wow, he really is a perfectionist! That is amazing for a first grader. It’s hard not to correct their every mistake, but you took the approach of showing him where and why it goes there. You took the time to have a conversation about your students writing rather than saying do this or do that and they don’t really know why. You made Pete feel his writing was important. I think the approach you took to conference with him made him realize how much you care about his writing! Coming from a 3rd grade teacher, I THANK YOU!!!!


  3. Though conferring with children about their writing may not feel like BIG change you were hoping to see this semester with your writing instruction, I do think that practicing how we talk with children about their writing one-on-one is one of the best ways to ‘become’ a stronger writing teacher. I loved how you used one of Pete’s books to help him better understand how punctuation is used in dialogue. In this way, you taught him more than just how to ‘fix’ punctuation–you used a mentor text to show Pete how writers can learn strategies/tips from published authors. Perhaps this a strategy that you could work into all of your conferences! It will be interesting to track Pete’s future writing to see if periods and commas begin to emerge in more independent writing.

    Now that you’ve engaged in an ‘editing’ conference, is your plan to explore conferring at other stages of the writing process? Katie Wood Ray lists the following kinds of writing conferences: living the life of a writer and choosing writing projects to pursue; planning for published pieces of writing: collecting and developing ideas; being aware of genre, structure, purpose, audience, and so on; drafting pieces of writing; revising writing and crafting writing for an audience; getting and giving responses to writing; editing, proofreading, and knowing conventions of grammar and
    usage; and publishing (p. 164). Here is a link to one of her conferring chapters if you’re interested: http://www.literacyinlearningexchange.org/sites/default/files/conferring_excerpt_from_writing_workshop.pdf.

    There is SO much you and your students could learn from each other by spending time conferring! I hope you won’t consider this a ‘lesser’ goal but rather a realistic goal that pushes you and your students to learn more about what it means to be a ‘good’ writer in first grade. 🙂


  4. Although I did not have to correct any spelling mistakes, I wonder how other teachers feel about correcting spelling on their students’ finished writing. Is writing the correct spelling above or below the misspelled word a good thing or a bad thing?

    I also worry about correcting too much on a student’s final draft. There seems to be a fine line between what sixth graders perceive as constructive criticism and just plain old criticism. I have found that my students are more open to spelling corrections when I point out common spelling rules or root words. It also helps them to keep a list of commonly misspelled words in the backs of their notebooks. This way, they aren’t having to refer to reference books, which I love but they seem to hate, and they aren’t avoiding using words that they can’t remember how to spell.


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