The Teacher Tip

Build from the Writer’s Strengths

March 15, 2017

From “Responding to Student Writing: Notice How I…”, by Katherine Bomer, an article series in Heinemanns Digital Library


In a writing conference with Trey, I move from naming a specific gift that Trey possesses as a writer, to an invitation to try something new. Notice that I do not give an assignment or tell Trey what to do next, something having nothing to do with his ongoing work. Instead, I step into what Trey is already beginning to do (a place of strength), and invite him to try on suggestions. I imagine large directions, like different kinds of maps where Trey might go next, and let him decide what will make sense for his own composing process.


Then, I ask Trey to try my suggestion, while I wait and watch for a moment. I write as Trey talks, and then I repeat back in his exact words, his own language. The effect is that his own words given back to him jump-start his mind and he says even more that can become part of his piece of writing. I respect Trey’s own language as just right; there is no need to enhance his words with a better vocabulary or “correct” anything in this early generating stage.


Try This: Pay close attention to body language and to the ways positive language and active listening help students see, and feel safe in seeing, themselves in new ways.

How does the structure of these conferences—being curious about who students really are and then naming and building from students’ strengths—create a positive structure for learning?

 To learn more about Heinemanns Digital Library, or to read the rest of this article by Katherine Bomer, please click here.

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