Using Conferences to Support the Writing Process
BETSY A. BOWEN
Conversations between students and teachers about writing are not new, but in the past twenty years they have gained considerable attention as an effective tool in teaching writing. Researchers and theorists, such as Murray, Moffett, and Graves, have argued that students need to talk about drafts in progress with skilled, attentive readers. Recently, research on cognitive processes has begun to consider writing conferences as sites where writers may reveal something about the goals and decisions that influenced their writing. As a result, writing conferences, with teachers or with peers, have become a prominent part of new approaches to teaching writing.
Enthusiasm for writing conferences has not been limited to theorists. Teachers and students -- the people who matter most -- have found that writing conferences can profoundly change the teaching of writing. At the University of New Hampshire, where weekly writing conferences have been part of the freshman composition program for more than fifteen years, Carnicelli ( 1980) examined student evaluations of their effectiveness. He found students almost unanimous in their support for conferences, even students who were otherwise unenthusiastic about writing. In fact, in the more than 1800 evaluations he analyzed, no student reported learning more from class than from the writing conference.
Teachers who have used writing conferences have found them equally productive. In a study sponsored by the National Institute of Education, Freedman and colleagues ( 1985) surveyed 500 teachers nationwide who had been