If we can agree that each student lives within his/her own feelings, on any given day, we experience dozens of individual environments within each class. Some student simmer with optimism. Others boil over in joy or frustration or resignation. We all know students who clam up. We all know students who chitter away. Every student is different and few (if any) are in the same place every day.
Some days may be better writing days for some than others, and by listening to where as many are each day, our teaching decisions can help move more young writers towards the success each wants to feel and own.
If listening is the primary role we adopt in a conference, if we actually do create more time to confer with more students. Don Murray suggests that when teachers listen, a writing conference can actually be short and effective. I wonder if when we say we do not have time to confer that we really mean we do not have time to talk to/at every student. We have a lot we could say and not enough minutes in a class to say it.
I continue to pay attention to this as I remind myself to listen...listen...listen. Just listen. Notice where their talking takes them. Notice where their peers overhearing (and often offering help) takes them. Notice where their being encouraged to think out loud takes them.