One of the most integral steps of our writing process is the coach conference. With every essay, students complete at least one coach conference, and the feedback they get is invaluable. But, what exactly goes into this conference? What kind of information do students get? How does each conference help students improve? Here is a close look at what the process is all about.
What’s exactly is a Coach Conference?
Coach conferences occur at least once for every essay in our annual courses. Coaches will provide an “appointment schedule,” which can be a span of 3-6 days, and students choose one that best fits his or her plans. Then, on the day of the appointment, students post their work to the “Conference Room,” which is essentially an online discussion board. The coach will then review the essay and provide thorough feedback.
Coaches are sure to take a look at a variety of elements within the essay. Here are just a few of the main elements a coach will look for when reviewing an essay:
- An interesting, engaging opening
- A clear thesis that covers everything within the essay
- Ideas are fully developed
- Transitions between ideas both between and within paragraphs
- A succinct conclusion that wraps up everything
- The overall organization of the essay
- Whether or not the student has each requirement in the essay
- Good vocabulary and word choice variety
- Sentence structure variety
What Kind of Feedback do Coaches Give?
For the most part, coaches write their feedback directly into the student’s writing. Coaches add notes, comments, questions, and suggestions as close to the spot in question as possible to ensure clarity. Even more, it’s specific. Notes like, “Double-check your introduction,” or “Your organization needs work,” won’t appear without a specific, detailed note on how and why a change needs to be made.
The biggest tool in the coach’s bag is the Quality Question. A quality question is a question posed to students in hopes of encouraging a line of thinking that will lead to a fully developed idea. They’re not “yes” or “no” questions. They are open-ended and require students to think logically in order to fill out their writing.
Here’s an example from a previous student’s memoir essay (quality questions are underlined):
My family had a tree behind the house that had taken me forever to learn how to climb. It was enormous, this hackberry. The following three sentences read a little choppy because the transitions aren’t quite right. How can you fix that to make your writing a little smoother? ->Its bark was rough and cracked. Its trunk was two feet in diameter. And its limbs spread out looking like a leafy giant<-nice simile!. Once I learned how how did you learn?, I would climb it constantly, and I would use our rope swing to get down.
One day, I climbed this tree, and I was getting down, as I always did<-how did you always get down? The reader doesn’t know, so you need to tell them!. This time, as I was swinging down, my hands slipped. What did it feel like? What emotion did you feel or what thought ran through your head? I hadn’t prepared to land, so I hit the ground collapsing like a roly-poly. What happened? How did it feel to hit the ground so hard? Use sensory details to help your reader experience the moment from your shoes!
By asking these questions, students can take their writing from a short rough draft to a brilliant, fully-developed essay.
What’s not in a Coach Conference?
Notice that something most writing courses consider to be the main goal of the courses is missing from our list above. Yep… we don’t look at grammar, punctuation, or spelling during conferences.
It’s not an oversight or a lack of emphasis. In fact, we skip those elements on purpose. In the revision process, grammar should always happen in the final stages. If a coach asks a student to add more detail in a particular paragraph with fragments, often a student naturally notices and fixes the fragment error in the revision process–and we don’t want to take that learning opportunity away by marking the errors too early!
In our program, we believe that the greatest focus should fall on voice and idea development. That way, writing becomes interesting and unique to the individual. While we certainly point out patterns (like “it seems like you have a lot of run-ons, so be sure to read your paper out loud as you revise!”), we have found that, often, the stray grammatical mistake disappears when a student takes the time to develop an idea. Grammar is a final edit step that coaches provide later in the process.
Want to Try it Out?
You don’t have to enroll in the annual course to get a taste of what our conferences are like. Take a look at our paper review service! You can submit anything you’d like, from fiction to fantasy and everything in between.