Composition Conferences in the Virtual World

Composition Conferences in the Virtual World

By Monica O’Donnell

Besides the entertainment and joy that class connects bring me, hands down, my favorite all-time activity is the composition conference.

In a brick and mortar setting, the student may be seated at a kidney shaped table with the teacher. The teacher may be kneeling down by the student’s desk, or student and teacher may be sitting at the teacher’s desk while reading, highlighting, and discussing a composition.

Virtual composition conferences share similar practices. The student pops into my classroom.

Depending on the number of students in the classroom, usually around two to five, small talk happens. My brain recollects a recent K-Mail, Skype instant message, or file upload of a recent composition.

“Susie!!!!! Hey!!! So, you finished your personal narrative! Awesome! Are you here to share that with me today or would you like to work on something else?”

The student may speak on microphone or type in chat box. Usually, the student will let me know that it is “go time.”

They are ready for the conference.

Students are typically nervous the first few times, and I really do not know why. I consider myself pretty pleasant and our English team is pretty rad.

We calm nerves and let the student know we will paste the composition on the screen.

You may wonder how that magically happens.

Remember, the cool file sharing feature I mentioned? Through OLS, Online Learning School, our students can upload files and send them to us instantly without flooding our inboxes or hoping “file sharing” goes through on Skype or that it is not sent with nineteen emoticons that match the theme of the composition.

We paste the composition alongside the rubric.

The Write Now Rubric.

This is located in many places. Teacher, Learning Coach, and Student can access it from the last lesson in each composition unit, the pacing guide (sent by teacher the first week of school), and the Teacher Graded Assignment (TGA) Ledger (sent by teacher the first week of school).

They are hyperlinked. Click on them. Review them. Bookmark them. Print them. Know them backwards and forwards. Use it before the prewriting, during the drafting, and after with the English teacher.

We read the composition off the microphone to save time, especially if other students are waiting. Don’t worry! They are not in the same room. They are in a breakout room.

Your composition conference is private. A one-on-one writing workshop session with your very own English teacher.

Teacher hops on microphone with highlighter in hand, rather, hand on keyboard mouse, using the whiteboard highlighter.

We point out things as we score and go over the rubric. We hit the high points and review the weakest writing trait.

My favorite part of our time together is to point out achievements, especially if the student improved from the previous conference, or strengthened a specific writing trait.

When areas of weakness are spotted, that is where the teaching moment occurs. We look at your sentence beginnings together.

We study your verb choices and identify possible repetitive phrases.

We open up the grammar book and look for new ways to incorporate the prepositional phrase into your writing.

We eliminate “fluffy” word choice and practice using stronger language that is full of sensory details rather than telling your reader how you feel, or how something seems.

We discuss common grammatical or spelling mistakes and make a note to correct that next time.

We study the attention grabber and make sure you did not ask a question.

Please, please, please, for the love of pencil erasers do not start off your composition with a question. You nailed that in first, second, third, fourth, and fifth grades. It is time to move on and try something new.

Maybe an anecdote.

Maybe dialogue.

Maybe an interesting fact.

Maybe en media res.

Anything but a question.

Have you ever been stuck upside down on a roller coaster?

Have you ever wanted to learn how to make a quiche?

Do you wonder where bats sleep?

Guess what?




If you ask me a question and my answer is, “No,” I am not going to read your composition.

Watch out. I am stepping off the soap box now.

Back to the composition conference procedures.

We talk about the middle and end and make sure it flows.

Make sure it comes full circle. That it doesn’t leave your reader hanging.

Save these endings for the mystery writers.

“Then, my Uncle Charlie grabbed my arm and……………………………………….

If you want to know more you will just have to wait and see what Uncle Charlie does.”

Insert Evil Laugh Here.

Here is where I insert my “rolled eyes.”

Do not do it!

Write down that cheeseball ending on a notecard and stomp on it. Be done with it.

Let us save that cheese for some queso.

Alright, what you are now looking at is a whiteboard screen with your composition that displays markings with the virtual highlighter, the rubric with markings, and now your teacher is tallying up your score.

Once your score has been revealed, you guys can talk about it.

If you do not have any questions, your English teacher will enter your score in OLS and check to make sure you have jotted down the composition conference notes on your TGA Ledger.

How about that?

You have read to the end of this blog and survived.

The composition conference is even easier and quite more enjoyable if I do not say so myself.

So, with that said, “I will see you at our next conference and………………………….”

Insert evil laugh here.

One Comment

  1. Mrs. O –
    We’re all missing you wholeheartedly, immensely, enormously in our passionate little middle school hearts. When a student graduated from lower school and entered the World of Middle School, you would be the first English teacher to greet. You would make the difference in the whole world. Take our writing to a level unimaginable. Understand those seemingly complex principles of writing. Open the door to being-friends-with-a-teacher. What you’ve taught me is a lot – A lot. Oh, I do know you hate that word.

    MS ain’t the same without you. The Class Connect Sessions list aches without your makes-you-scratch-your-head CC titles in a special format with a /Mrs. O at the end of it. Study Halls look up and down in search without Monica O’Donnell’s blue link in there. Middle School Kmails sob without Mrs. O’s name as the sender in it. MS ain’t the same without you.

    Thank you for all you’ve done these unforgettable years. I could use a whole dictionary and still not be able to express it – to express what they call gratitude.

    I could send all the kudos in the world to you, and they still wouldn’t be enough. Each teacher has a particular sprayed-with-gold ruby throne to sit on, and yours will, I assure you, always remain vacant.

    Thanks ever so much,


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