Welcome to Read – Write – Connect, Inc.

the Internet home of Leah Mermelstein.

Best Writing consultant 002 copyLeah is an internationally recognized literacy consultant who specializes in K-5 Reading and Writing Workshop. She is the President and CEO of Read-Write-Connect, INC. She is also the author of Reading/​​Writing Connections in the K-2 Classroom, (Allyn & Bacon), Don’t Forget to Share (Heinemann) and the co-author of Launching the Writing Workshop (with Lucy Calkins) (Heinemann).

Selected Works


Quality Writing Instruction
This brand new DVD will assist teachers with high quality writing instruction.


Don’t Forget to Share: The Crucial Last Step in the Writing Workshop
This brand new book will show you how to make your share sessions more instructional.


Reading/Writing Connections in the K-2 Classroom: Find the Clarity and Then Blur the Lines
This book demonstrates how through careful, explicit assessing, planning, and teaching every student can understand and use the reading/writing connection to become stronger readers and writers at the same time.

Units of Study for Primary Writing: A Yearlong Curriculum: Launching the Writing Workshop
This book shows teachers how to launch a joyful and rigorous Writing Workshop in their classrooms.


E-mail the author

Authors Guild


Leah Mermelstein
536 Grand Street, Ste. 501,
Hoboken, NJ 07030
(917) 503-1947


1Leah best writing consultant 1.4 copy

Blog Posts are Below:


Teaching Kids to Be Self-Directed During Writing Conferences

For those of you who have been reading my past blogs, you know I have recently been focusing many of them on ways to get kids to become more self-directed.  I’ve settled for now on the word self-directed (Thanks, Jen if you are reading this!)  I just think it’s more rigorous than simply saying I want kids to be independent. Yes, I want kids to work by themselves, but I also want the work that they do to be of high quality. The word self-directed embodies more of that image.







Today I want to share a quick conference I had last week with a first grader named Hasik.  I share this conference because while doing this conference (and really all conferences) I keep in mind not only the content I’m trying to teach, but also how to ensure that what I teach gets added into the repertoire of what they do during the independent phase of the Writing Workshop.  In this way, they are not only working by themselves, but they are also doing high quality and very individualized work.


I decided to write this blog because at times I think teachers are more focused on what they’re teaching kids in a conference and not as focused on ensuring that what they taught will help kids become more self-directed during the independent phase of Writing Workshop.


After, I share the conference, I’ll name out a few of things I deliberately did in order to move Hasik into become more and more self-directed.


I began this conference by watching Hasik write independently. What I noticed through my observations was that Hasik began by rereading his writing piece.


(It’s important for you to know that Hasik’s teacher, Marnie had not conducted a focus lesson that day on rereading.)


He pulled out a pen was just about to mark up his writing when I called him over.


Leah:  I noticed that you were rereading your writing today without your teacher telling you to.  That’s such a good idea. Tell me a bit about why you decided to begin today by rereading.


Hasik: I was looking to see what was wrong.


Leah: Say more about what you mean by that.


Hasik:  (He points to a sentence on his page.) This is wrong.  It says: I mad a snowman. That doesn’t sound right.


Leah: I have to compliment you. Without anyone telling you to, you reread your piece looking to see if anything was wrong, if there were any parts that didn’t make sense, if there were some changes that you wanted to make.  It’s one thing to do this when the teacher asks you to, but it really shows your understanding of it when you do it without your teacher asking you to.  If there is ever any time in Writing Workshop where you find you’re not sure what to do next, you can always do what you did today. You can reread and see if there is anything that is wrong, anything that doesn’t make sense or that you want to change.


Hasik:  Okay.


Leah:  You’re right, I mad a snowman doesn’t make sense. What do you want it to say? What would make sense?


Hasik: I made a snowman.


Leah:  You want to change ‘mad’ to ‘made’. You’re right that would make more sense.  I bet you’ve seen the word made before in books that you’ve read.  Can you picture that word in your head?


Hasik: (Hazic closes his eyes.  The class has practiced this strategy before.)


Leah:  Why don’t you try to write the word made in my notebook?


(Hasik writes maed.)


Leah: You have all of the right letters, but we just need to change the order. Make another picture in your head.  What do you think the order of that word might be?


Hasik writes the word correctly now.


Leah:  Look, you got it! (I pull out the book The Snowy Day, which has the word made in). Look at how you spelled the word made and now look at how it is spelled in the book, The Snowy Day.  Can you point to the word made in that book?  You were able to write the word exactly the way it looks in books.  From now on, I want you to spell that word made the way it looks in books.  Let’s practice it a few more time before you leave me. Write it big.  Write it small.


(Hasik practices writing it a few more times.)


Leah:  From now on without a teacher telling you to you can reread your writing and see if it makes sense and make changes just like you did today.  You can also from now on spell the word made the way it looks in books.  Have a great rest of your writing time.


Now that you’ve ‘seen’ the conference, let’s look at through the lens of this question:


What did I do to ensure that Hasik would add what I taught to his repertoire of things he could do during the independent phase of the Writing Workshop?


I’ve highlighted some of the words below that I think were important components of my conference. These are the components that I believe will help you turn any conference into one that teaches kids new content, as well helping them to become more self-directed.



First, I watched Hasik to see what he did by himself on that particular day.


Then, the next thing I did was question him about what he was doing.


After listening to him, I mirrored his own words back to him and let him know how amazing it was that he did that without his teacher asking him to.  I asked him to continue doing this type of work during future independent periods of Writing Workshop.


Later in the conference, rather than giving him the correct spelling of made, I made sure he was engaged by asking him to picture the word made and then try to write it. When he didn’t get it the first time, I had him try it again letting him know that he had the right letters but they were not in the right order.


I then showed him the word made in the book The Snowy Day. I had him practice writing the word a few times to further engage him in the process.  Finally I ended the conference by being clear with my language on what he could now do during the independent phase of Writing Workshop.





I would love to know your thoughts!


Have you tried any of these techniques in your conferences?


Are there other techniques that have worked in your conferences to help kids become more self-directed?


What are some of your struggles with this concept?


Copyright, 2012

14 Responses to Teaching Kids to Be Self-Directed During Writing Conferences
  1. Bob Rose
    January 31, 2012 | 9:46 pm

    “Picturing a correctly spelled word” mentally is what literacy is all about, and as you imply, writing the word over and over until the act becomes effortless and automatic is critical, especially for emergent readers.

  2. Leah Mermelstein
    January 31, 2012 | 10:07 pm

    I agree with you, Bob. If we want kids to become more self-directed while they are working independently, then we have to utilize techniques in our conferences (such as picturing a word or writing it a few times) that help kids use new strategies in effortless and automatic ways. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Michelle Lass
    January 31, 2012 | 11:39 pm

    I love being able to “see” your lesson. I’ve tried the “mirroring” technique with varying results. I’m eager to try the “picture it in your head” idea…I’ve tried this, “What would you do if you didn’t know what to do?” Funny how kids who don’t know what to do next will come up with something!
    Keep posts like this coming! It’s almost like watching you work!!!

    • Leah Mermelstein
      January 31, 2012 | 11:47 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts, Michelle. I love the question that you pose to kids: “What would you do if you didn’t know what to do?” I feel like if you ask kids questions like that on a regular basis, they begin to expect that question which in turn helps them to think about what they can do on their own. I often ask a similar question: What would you do next if I wasn’t here bugging you? It’s a good point that you bring up–if we want kids to be self-directed, then we must ask them what they would do if/when problems arise. Conferences are the PERFECT time to ask these types of questions!

  4. Betsy
    February 1, 2012 | 2:16 am

    I too like “seeing” your conference. I can picture Hazic thinking it all through. Visualizing is such a great technique, but I have not used it for the purpose of spelling. The way you took it right to the book was great as well. Seeing it in print will help him to visualize it later when he wants to use the word again! Thanks for posting.

    • Leah Mermelstein
      February 1, 2012 | 2:24 am

      Hi Betsy, Thanks for your thoughts. In thinking about your comments, maybe part of the trick in getting kids to be more self-directed is to have them practice the technique in more than one way. I think, in this situation, what helped Hazic was doing more than one thing(visualizing and then seeing the word in a book that he knew). I’m hesitant in saying this because I think we have to be careful not to over do anything in a conference or have it go on for too long. In this instance, it seemed to work, but I”m not sure it would work all of the time. What I have been trying to do in each of conference is ask myself, “Am I teaching this in a way that will enable a child to do more on his own in the future?”

  5. Lucy Malka
    February 1, 2012 | 3:09 am

    Leah, I too have been thinking about questions teachers should be asking themselves as they confer with students. The more self reflective teachers become the the better the teaching. Students need to be self directed in all areas of learning, so that question should echo throughout the day.
    Great Work!

    • Leah Mermelstein
      February 1, 2012 | 1:08 pm

      Thanks, Lucy for your comments and yes, I agree getting kids to be self-directed is not limited to Writing Workshop! If we help them in one area it’s sure to connect to how we help them in another area. It’s so true that if we want kids to be self-directed, we have to come to our conferences with a sense of curiosity. That idea of coming to a conference with a sense of curiosity makes conferring so much more difficult because you don’t know what you will confer about until you ask your questions. One thing I have been doing with teachers is looking at writing samples before we confer. In the writing protocol that we use for this, there is a section for the questions we want to ask a student child. That section has been particularly helpful because it’s allowed us to have conversations about what we know for sure from looking at a writing samples and what we know for sure by asking questions. It’s given a structure for how to be curious in a conference which in turn has helped kids to become more self-directed because they us coming to them for information.

  6. Jen
    February 1, 2012 | 1:27 pm

    Hi Leah, Great post. I have been thinking lately about decisions. How many decisions do we allow students to make in the day? I recently saw Ian Jukes speak and he said that when kids are engaged digitally they are making decisions every second to second and a half. In school on average they make a decision every 34 minutes. Ever since hearing that, I keep thinking about how frustrating it must be for students. Moreover, I am afraid that we are conditioning students to not make their own decisions. A colleague shared that by the time her brightest students get to her in middle school they want every decision to be made for them… How long should it be? How should it begin? What should be included?
    So after reading your post, I am connecting the idea of being self-directed and making decisions. I love that the student made a decision on his own to reread. Then you reinforced with him that he made a good decision and hopefully that will encourage him to make more decisions. If we want our students to be risk-takers and creative thinkers, then we need them to make decisions and be self-directed :)

    • Leah Mermelstein
      February 1, 2012 | 3:11 pm

      Thanks for posting all of your insights and for thinking about this with me. :) It’s so interesting what you say about decisions and how few decisions kids make in a day of school verse how many decisions kids make when they are engaged digitally. I know that firsthand from watching my nephew with my IPAD. That connection that you made between making decisions and being self-directed couldn’t be more true. My nephew is incredibly self-directed when it comes to the IPAD and I think that has to with the amount of decisions he is asked to make while interacting with it. The fewer decisions we ask kids to make in school, the less self-directed they will be. So another idea to think about when conferring with students is this: How often are you watching and then acknowledging the decisions that they are making? How often are you asking them to keep making those kinds of decisions in future writing sessions? How often are you asking them to make decisions within a conference? These are probably great questions for a teacher to ask him/herself while conferring. If teachers want to get their kids more self-directed then they need to ask themselves these very questions and make changes in their teaching if they find that they are not getting kids to make more decisions on their own.

      • Chris
        March 1, 2012 | 1:38 am

        I am loving this. Decisions! Yes, that is the label I would put to interactions I overhear that I would consider as supporting self-directive behaviors. I never really thought of it in relationship to technology, but so perfect a comparison. I see my grandkids with their games and my ipad and they have control and are constantly engaged. If not, they flip to another game.

        Trying to link possible stems in my mind with the concept of uncertainty and open-endedness that P. Johnston talks about in Opening Minds. Hmmm: What are some ways you might figure that out…or What could you do to help yourself? or How do you want it to go?

        • Leah Mermelstein
          March 1, 2012 | 2:46 pm

          I just ordered that book and look forward to reading it. Our conversations this week in your district about language really got me thinking I am sure that some of those types of questions that you noted above would help kids to become even more self-directed because once again you are putting the decision making on the student.

          Thanks Chris for your thoughts…as always you get me thinking. :)

  7. Tina Hislop
    February 1, 2012 | 4:24 pm

    Dear Leah,

    Excellent capture of the student conference – I know, since I was fortunate enough to be with you in the classroom. What readers might want to know, is prior to meeting with the student, we examined Hazik’s book “Weh (When) me and my big brother play show (snowball) bol fit (fight).” The grade level discussed strengths and possible teaching points for the conference based on the student work. Once in the conference, you followed Hazik’s lead which gave value to the work he was about to start and reminded us all that conferences are often not planned or big and fancy to be effective in making our students self-directed learners. Thank you!

    • Leah Mermelstein
      February 2, 2012 | 12:27 pm

      Thanks, Tina for your thoughts. I’m glad that you brought up what happened before the conference. I think talking about student work beforehand is another way to get students to be more self-directed. Just as you said the conversation got us to see what Hazik was trying to work on. Rather than jumping to to something new, we taught into that. The conference became all about him and what he was trying to do, which of course will help him to become more self-directed.

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