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The Writing Conference in Nancie Atwell’s Room (Part 1)

By Donald LaBranche

A summary from two editions of In the Middle

  • I see no reason to spend your life writing poems unless your goal is to write great poems.  –Donald Hall, “Poetry and Ambition”, 1983
  • Here is what I remember: She dismisses her students to go to their seats to write with the benediction “Work hard. Make Literature.” The children—eighteen seventh and eighth graders—move with practiced and confident precision back to their places to pick up with their poems, stories, letters to the local editor, or memoirs about a summer adventure.  After a few minutes of waiting for her writers to find their rhythm, the teacher takes up her clipboard and small bench and starts to move around the classroom. It’s March so she doesn’t have to start each conference with an open ended question any more, the conversations between her and her student-writers are on-going and serious. They are built on a foundation of mutual trust and respect, an understanding of the craft of writing, of the needs and desires of each student as a writer in the moment, and a deep understanding of learning theory and adolescent development. She sits down next to a writer and they talk about the work: what stage it’s in, what’s working and what’s not, where it might go from here. Then she moves on to the next conversation.

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