Nature of Interactions during Teacher-Student Writing Conferences, Revisiting the Potential Effects of Self-Efficacy Beliefs

Research Assistant Dr., Ankara University, Faculty of Educational Sciences, Elementary Education


Problem Statement: Within Language Arts instruction the use of teacherstudent writing conferences is accepted as an effective strategy for teaching writing. The writing conference allows for an individual one-onone teacher-student conversation about the students’ writing or writing process and provides the student an audience in terms of revising or sharing purposes (McAndrew & Reigstad, 2001; Newkirk, 1989; Sperling, 1991). Although there is more than one way to label writing conferences, their process and purpose is consistently defined. Teacher-student writing conferences have purpose, follow predictable structure, and put students in a position of being partners in collaboration (Anderson, 2000). Several studies purport that writing conferences make students better writers (Bell, 2002; Eickholdt, 2004; Haneda, 2000; Hewett, 2006; Koshik, 2002; Martone, 1992; Steward, 1991; Wong, Butler, Ficzere, & Kuperis,1996), help them learn better and increase their achievement (Corden, 2007; Edgington, 2004; Flynn & King, 1993; King, 1993; Mabrito, 2006; Mitchell, 2004) and improve their habits and attitudes toward learning, independence, and authority (Martinez, 2001; McIver & Wolf, 1999; Young & Miller, 2004). Bandura (1989) introduced the concept of self-efficacy and argued its effects on motivation and school success. Self-efficacy is developed from the social cognitive theory suggesting that beliefs about self-efficacy can be changed or increased with the effects of personal and environmental factors (Schunk, 2003). Self-efficacy is “an individual’s judgments of his or hr capabilities to perform given actions” 1991, p. 207). Even though plenty of studies investigate the connection between the writing conferences and students’ writing skills, research on the relationships between writing conferences and self-efficacy has been ignored. The few studies that do relate writing conferences to self-efficacy tend to mention it as a desire to write more and share their writing proudly (Clippaard, 1998) as well as the individual writer’s confidence (Clippard, 1998; Tobin, 1998). These studies claimed that writing conferences had a positive impact on students’ perceived self-efficacy beliefs toward writing, yet none of the research studies mentioned the features of interaction between the teacher and the student that might affect their perceptions of self-efficacy. Overall, it is clear that more work needs to be done on how students (with high self-efficacy vs. low self-efficacy) and teachers behave during teacher-student writing conferences to determine, and examine whether students’ level of perceived self- efficacy toward writing affects the nature of their scheduled teacher-student writing conferences. The intend of this qualitative research design with multiple case studies is to investigate the nature of the interaction during scheduled teacher-student writing conferences and explore relationship between students’ level of perceived self-efficacy beliefs and their participation style during writing conferences.

Purpose of the Study: The purpose of this study was two-fold, first, the nature of teacher-student writing conferences were examined to determine if they were balanced, student-centered, or teacher-centered. Second, whether students’ levels of perceived self-efficacy could inform the nature of their writing conferences were determined. The quality of teacherstudent writing conferences are not easily determined, so this study aimed to highlight the common patterns that occurred during the conferences with students who had low and high levels of perceived self-efficacy toward writing.

Methods: A qualitative study design with multiple case studies was used to observe and analyze scheduled teacher-student writing conferences over a period of 10 weeks. The participants of the study were fifth-graders from a public primary school in the Southeastern United States. Data were collected using the Writing Self-Efficacy Scale (Pajares, Miller, & Johnson, 1999) as adapted from Shell, Murphy, & Bruning (1989), as well as audio and video-taped teacher-student writing conferences, audio-taped interviews with the teacher and students, and field observations. Collected evidence was described and interpreted using qualitative methods.

Results: None of the scheduled teacher-student writing conferences were coded as completely teacher-centered. The classroom teacher was good at conducting conferences having balanced and student-centered features. Also, nature of writing conferences changed among students with different self-efficacy levels in terms of focus, ownership, conference agenda, turn taking, frequency of talk, numbers and functions of the questions asked, numbers of praise statements provided by the teacher, and amount of outside interruptions occurred during conferences.

Discussion and Conclusion: The analyses of teacher-student writing conferences yielded that conference interaction changed from student to student. While the teacher was successful at conducting student-centered writing conferences in many aspects of the conferences still there were parts she was ineffective on making her students more active participants. The study argues the help of using rubrics to analyze the conference interaction and provides suggestions for practitioners and researchers to better conduct and investigate teacher-student writing conferences.

Keywords: Teacher-student writing conferences, self-efficacy beliefs, writing education, primary school students.