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The Power of Purposeful Talk in the Primary-Grade Classroom


Hawkins, Lisa K. “The Power of Purposeful Talk in the Primary-Grade Classroom.” Language Arts, vol. 94 no. 1, 2016, pp.8-21.


The premise of the article is to showcase different types of writing conferences from the perspective of a veteran teacher who is still working toward her own professional development. The four types of writing conferences Hawkins highlights are: verbal rehearsal, transcription activity, criterion-specific collaboration, and find-and-fix correction. She is careful to state that the four types of writing conferences examined in the article are not the only kind teachers have with students, but four that stood out with this particular teacher over the course of the month she conducted her research. Major areas of focus for the article surround the use of language in different types of writing conferences, following the child in writing conferences, and conducting the conferences in a way that is not repurposing the method of teacher as knowledge holder in front of the whole class.

The teacher in this study utilizes Calkins Units of Study for the teaching of writing, beginning with a short mini-lesson, a chunk of time for individual writing, and sharing at the end. During individual writing time, the teacher confers with individual students and/or small groups depending upon the lesson. Hawkins takes great care in describing the four types of writing conferences with examples of student work, snippets of teacher and student talk, and examination of what happens in each conference. The different purposes for conferencing encompass the teacher’s instructional purposes based on where each child is at the moment, requiring careful consideration of language, questioning, and response. Reflecting on our own conferencing practices with these tenets in mind can be powerful and effective.


Classroom Application


Educators may find Table 2 an efficient use of their time for reflecting on current writing conferencing practices in order to see what is working well in practice, and considering a potentially broader range of language use and question types for different conferencing purposes. The table aligns with the four types of conferences from the study, each of which is explicated in great detail which can be another support for teacher reflection in tandem with Table 2.