In the past few semesters, I have had great success with designing an in-class writing/conferencing workshop organized around the concept of “mini-conferencing” or “speed-conferencing.” The goal of this activity is to have a very short conference with each student – about 2-3 minutes long – that will quickly address a question or two about their writing while offering them a kernel of knowledge about the progression of their paper. At the end of the class period before the planned workshop, ask students to come prepared with a rough draft (be it full, partial, a few paragraphs – whatever stage of the writing process you’re on as a class will work just fine). Along with their draft, ask them to prepare one or two specific questions either about the current project or their writing in general – this will frame the mini-session so time is not wasted while the student attempts to divine a query about their writing.
The concept is simple and the workshop can be both effective and fun depending on how you approach it. With an average of 22 students and only 55 minutes, for example, there are obvious concerns for time constraint provided every student attends class on that day. However, even with a full house the activity is manageable. That said, there are a few essential ground rules to help this activity go over well with your class:
1) Choose a day in which you can spend little time prepping in the beginning. If you have any quizzes or activities (like a short lesson on grammar) planned for the first 5-10 minutes of class, do not attempt to squeeze this in. This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how ambitious you may become!
2) Have a backup plan. What I mean by this is in the event that you are not able to get around to each student, be sure to have an avenue (that is accommodating for both you and the student) to review their work. More often than not, I have one or two students who do not get an opportunity to meet with me during the in-class workshop so I’ll either stay a little late (it’s 3 minutes per student, so not too much of a time commitment for either of us) or I’ll ask the student when they’re available. If you warn the entire class of this possibility, you’ll find that students do not get angry or feel “left out” and, in fact, you may have more than a few students volunteering to take a turn during the workshop.
3) Clearly convey the goals for this activity. It is one thing for you to know what you want students to get out of the workshop, but it’s another to convey that to them in a way that they’ll appreciate. I do my best to make it abundantly clear that while I am not “mini-conferencing” with students, they should be working on their writing and editing (whatever stage they may be on at the time). I emphasize this by posing it to them as “this is time set aside to work on your paper that you do not have to spend outside of our class” and, typically, students respond quite well to this perspective.
4) Have an established rapport. I would recommend this activity toward the middle of the semester once you’re well-acquainted with all of the personalities in your classroom. Classroom management might be less than possible during an activity of this type if you have not established a relationship with your students – one that might allow calling them out for having conversations that aren’t related to the subject-at-hand without any hard feelings along with it.
5) Have fun. As our personalities are different, so are the ways we conduct our classroom activities. It is my experience that this activity – in its hectic nature – is executed best with as much light-heartedness as possible. When I do this workshop I use a timer (for me, it’s a small interval timer that I use at the gym but even an egg timer or the timer available on most phones will work). The timer not only keeps everyone honest about the nature of the “speed workshop” but it also makes for a fun atmosphere. Using a timer isn’t necessary, but it’s recommended.
Amy is a PhD candidate in Rhetoric and Composition at WSU where she researches New Media and Composition history. She has taught ENG 1020 for several semesters and currently teaches ENG 1010.