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Instructional practices in facilitating K–6 writing conferences — January 2018


Could you provide information on instructional practices for facilitating writing conferences in grades K–6?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on facilitating writing conferences in elementary school. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (for details, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo).

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your information. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

Bayraktar, A. (2013). Nature of interactions during teacher-student writing conferences: Revisiting the potential effects of self-efficacy beliefs. Eurasian Journal of Educational Research, 50, 63–86. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Problem Statement: Within Language Arts instruction the use of teacher-student writing conferences is accepted as an effective strategy for teaching writing. The writing conference allows for an individual one-on-one teacher-student conversation about the students’ writing or writing process and provides the student an audience in terms of revising or sharing purposes (McAndrew & Reigstad, 2001; Newkirk, 1989; Sperling, 1991). Although there is more than one way to label writing conferences, their process and purpose is consistently defined. Teacher-student writing conferences have purpose, follow predictable structure, and put students in a position of being partners in collaboration (Anderson, 2000). Several studies purport that writing conferences make students better writers (Bell, 2002; Eickholdt, 2004; Haneda, 2000; Hewett, 2006; Koshik, 2002; Martone, 1992; Steward, 1991; Wong, Butler, Ficzere, & Kuperis,1996), help them learn better and increase their achievement (Corden, 2007; Edgington, 2004; Flynn & King, 1993; King, 1993; Mabrito, 2006; Mitchell, 2004) and improve their habits and attitudes toward learning, independence, and authority (Martinez, 2001; McIver & Wolf, 1999; Young & Miller, 2004). Bandura (1989) introduced the concept of self-efficacy and argued its effects on motivation and school success. Self-efficacy is developed from the social cognitive theory suggesting that beliefs about self-efficacy can be changed or increased with the effects of personal and environmental factors (Schunk, 2003). Self-efficacy is ‘an individual’s judgments of his or her capabilities to perform given actions’ (Schunk, 1991, p. 207). Even though plenty of studies investigate the connection between the writing conferences and students’ writing skills, research on the relationships between writing conferences and self-efficacy has been ignored. The few studies that do relate writing conferences to self-efficacy tend to mention it as a desire to write more and share their writing proudly (Clippard, 1998) as well as the individual writer’s confidence (Clippard, 1998; Tobin, 1998). These studies claimed that writing conferences had a positive impact on students’ perceived self-efficacy beliefs toward writing, yet none of the research studies mentioned the features of interaction between the teacher and the student that might affect their perceptions of self-efficacy. Overall, it is clear that more work needs to be done on how students (with high self-efficacy vs. low self-efficacy) and teachers behave during teacher-student writing conferences to determine, and examine whether students’ level of perceived self-efficacy toward writing affects the nature of their scheduled teacher-student writing conferences. The intend of this qualitative research design with multiple case studies is to investigate the nature of the interaction during scheduled teacher-student writing conferences and explore relationship between students’ level of perceived self-efficacy beliefs and their participation style during writing conferences. Purpose of the Study: The purpose of this study was two-fold, first, the nature of teacher-student writing conferences were examined to determine if they were balanced, student-centered, or teacher-centered. Second, whether students’ levels of perceived self-efficacy could inform the nature of their writing conferences were determined. The quality of teacher-student writing conferences are not easily determined, so this study aimed to highlight the common patterns that occurred during the conferences with students who had low and high levels of perceived self-efficacy toward writing. Methods: A qualitative study design with multiple case studies was used to observe and analyze scheduled teacher-student writing conferences over a period of 10 weeks. The participants of the study were fifth-graders from a public primary school in the Southeastern United States. Data were collected using the Writing Self-Efficacy Scale (Pajares, Miller, & Johnson, 1999) as adapted from Shell, Murphy, & Bruning (1989), as well as audio and video-taped teacher-student writing conferences, audio-taped interviews with the teacher and students, and field observations. Collected evidence was described and interpreted using qualitative methods. Results: None of the scheduled teacher-student writing conferences were coded as completely teacher-centered. The classroom teacher was good at conducting conferences having balanced and student-centered features. Also, nature of writing conferences changed among students with different self-efficacy levels in terms of focus, ownership, conference agenda, turn taking, frequency of talk, numbers and functions of the questions asked, numbers of praise statements provided by the teacher, and amount of outside interruptions occurred during conferences. Discussion and Conclusion: The analyses of teacher-student writing conferences yielded that conference interaction changed from student to student. While the teacher was successful at conducting student-centered writing conferences in many aspects of the conferences still there were parts she was ineffective on making her students more active participants. The study argues the help of using rubrics to analyze the conference interaction and provides suggestions for practitioners and researchers to better conduct and investigate teacher-student writing conferences.”

Glasswell, K., & Parr, J. M. (2009). Teachable moments: Linking assessment and teaching in talk around writing. Language Arts, 86(5), 352–361. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Traditionally, assessing student writing ability has often been product-focused. Advocates of child-centered process-oriented classrooms, however, suggest that teachers should also focus on understanding children’s writing behaviors in the context of meaningful communicative tasks. In such an approach, writing conferences are one way in which teachers can gather information to use for teaching purposes. While engaging with children around writing, skilled teachers can make the most of writing conference interactions by taking advantage of the ‘teachable moments’ that children present to them. In this article, we will discuss teachable moments as powerful instructional episodes in which assessment and teaching mesh to produce a finely tuned instructional system that moves students forward. We identify and explore three key hallmarks of the teachable moment as assessment and instruction in action, and discuss how teachers can make the most of these seemingly simple, but instructionally complex events.”

Ricks, P. H., Morrison, T. G., Wilcox, B., & Cutri, R. (2017). Effective writing content conferences in a sixth grade classroom: A cross-case analysis. Literacy Research and Instruction, 56(2), 114–131. Abstract retrieved from and related article retrieved from

From the abstract: “Conferencing gives teachers and students opportunities to discuss student writing and provide feedback in individual settings. Practitioner guides offer suggestions on how conferences can be conducted, but little is known about what types of interactions occur. Two case studies, including a cross-case analysis, were conducted to describe key components of effective conferences in one sixth grade classroom. Results showed that a structured and predictable pattern emerged in which students identified the purpose for the conference, examined a main issue of content with their teacher, and planned for the future. These students took ownership of their writing conferences by directing the conferences, maintaining a serious tone, and establishing a safe and positive atmosphere.”

Other Resources

Hawkins, L. K. (2016). The power of purposeful talk in the primary-grade writing conference. Language Arts, 94(1), 8–21. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “The article focuses on the aspects of purposeful talk methods in the writing conference approach in primary-grade education. Topics discussed include the writing instruction according by suburban elementary school teacher Maggie Malone, the purposes, possibilities for learning, and forms of writing conference, and the aspect of conferencing in the form of verbal rehearsal.”

Laman, T. T. (2011). The functions of talk within a 4th-grade writing workshop: Insights into understanding. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 25(2), 133–144. Abstract retrieved from

From the abstract: “Over the past 30 years, writing workshops have been implemented in classrooms around the world. Students are being asked to write across multiple contexts and genres and to use digital technologies. At the same time, high-stakes writing tests are increasing even though the time teachers spend teaching writing is decreasing. This study examines academically tracked 4th-graders’ first-time engagement with a writing workshop structure and the functions of students’ talk within this curricular venue. During writing conferences, author celebrations, and author sharing, talk functioned as a tool for creating a shared learning space, developing meta-awareness of processes and practices, and building writing identities. These functions of talk have implications for the teaching of writing, in general, and for teaching writing in the intermediate grades, in particular, given that most states have a high-stakes writing test in 4th grade.”

Phillips, D. K., & Larson, M. L. (2013). The teacher–student writing conference reimaged: Entangled becoming-writingconferencing. Gender & Education, 25(6), 722–737. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This analysis is experimental: we attempt to read data with the work of Karen Barad and in doing so ‘see’ teacher–student writing conferences (a common pedagogy of US elementary school writing) as intra-activity. Data were gathered during teacher–student writing conferences in a grade five US classroom over a six-week period. One conference between a researcher and a male Latino student, a Student of Labels, is diffracted. Reading and writing and thinking with Barad disrupt our habitual ways of privileging language as representational. Rather, we consider the material-discursive practices of schooling that produce what comes to matter, leading us to reimage the teacher–student writing conference as entangled becoming-writing conferencing, speaking to the multiplicity of participants, merging of bodies, continual movement, open-ended possibilities, and anticipated transformation of intra-action.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

(“Instructional practices” OR “instruction” OR “teaching” OR “facilitating”) AND (“writing conferences”) AND (“K–6” OR “elementary school” OR “primary grades”); (“writing conferences” and “elementary school”)

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published for the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations and academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized controlled trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order; (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc.; and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-00014524, administered by WestEd. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. government.