As relieved as I was to learn that much of school would be conducted in person this fall, I was (and remain) a little leery about going back to Writing Workshop in person. Writing Workshop is close quarters, and after more than a year of worrying about close contact—and having reasons to still worry, even if you’re vaccinated—I wasn’t comfortable returning to in-person appointments. But I’ve been delighted to continue conducting my appointments remotely. I used to think there was no substitute for digging into and marking up a physical copy of a paper alongside a student, but I’ve been won over by the ease and convenience of both the student and me being able to see the project we’re working on at the same time—on googledocs or our platform’s whiteboard—without one of us having to crane our neck or strain to see. I’ve also seen a number of students who are first-timers at Writing Workshop and who I sense were perhaps a little shy about visiting us in person; I think for some students, it’s less intimidating to talk with us about their work in the comfort of their own spaces.
I’m feeling much relieved to be back in the office for our Writing Workshop. I feel like I’m a more effective consultant in person. Walking up to the door to greet the student and do a little chit-chat to warm up as we walk back has always felt like a critical part of the routine for me. Reading body language is more difficult over the computer. I read a lot faster and more attentively off a physical page. But, perhaps the most important part is the free-form nature of making annotations and experimenting with structure. I’m often drawing or prompting students to draw sketches of their organization or arrows about how they might connect ideas or move text around. To me, leaving feedback online feels too organized. The comparative freedom I feel in the in-person conference is worth the risk, and I hope it’s worth the extra effort for the students too.