It is funny just how much could be achieved using an easy five-minute conversation. It can be a opportunity to direct students in self-reflection, help provide needed guidance, or work provide an opportunity to reassess mastery of criteria. This is the reason why I often schedule brief, five-minute conferences with students in each class period. The idea is straightforward. I plan out three to four mini-conferences per class period each day. This normally allows me to fulfill every student separately once every two weeks. To tell the truth, it has been more difficult for me to perform conferences this year because I’ve been diverted. I will return on conferences today.
Back when I taught self-contained (all subjects to one group) I met with each student once a week. I understood I could spare 30 minutes a day distribute so as to observe every pupil one-on-one weekly. I discovered the following things about conferencing with students you can try:
- I get the chance to know the students on a more personal level. This allows for a better approach to differentiated instruction.
- Students feel known on a deeper level, which then increases trust. This, in turn, leads to a higher level of student self-efficacy and helps prevent discipline issues. But it’s more than that. Before doing one-on-one conferencing, I was accidentally ignoring some of the quiet kids who were doing just fine in class. This helps guarantee that I meet with each student.
- Students are empowered to ask questions about their work and to reflect upon both the product and the process. My students tend to know how they are doing in my class because of the weekly conferences.
- This saves time for me. Every conference is essentially a chance for ongoing formative assessment. As a result, I spend less time grading (especially leaving feedback on student work).
- It allows me to thrive as an introverted teacher. I need this time one-on-one with students because the large crowd can feel exhausting.
How to Approach It
Here are some of the practical / logistical things I have found with this:
- Find the best moments where kids can be talking to each other while working independently. This allows for the class to work at a buzzing, not-too-loud noise level while I talk to students individually. I find that the warm-up and project times work best for this.
- Find the right location. I have a spot in front of the board where I have a standing center. I look out at the class and stand directly next to the student in the conference. We share a laptop computer screen as we discuss the questions.
- Give students specific days when they know they will have a conference. This allows students to feel prepared ahead of time.
The Three Types of Conferences
The following are the three types of conferences with students:
- Advice Conference: This conference is all about learning specific skills that students are missing. Each student must ask the teacher a series of questions based upon an area where he or she is struggling. This is a chance for targeted one-on-one attention and explicit help with a strategy. Students guide the process, tapping into the teacher’s expertise. This has the added bonus of encouraging students to embrace the idea that mistakes as a part of the learning process. It sets up a classroom culture where every student must be humble enough to admit that they are still struggling in some area of reading.
- Reflection Conferences: Instead of telling students what to do, the goal is to draw out student reflection. The teacher uses a series of reflective questions to lead students through the process of meta-cognition and into the setting and monitoring of goals. As the year progresses, the teacher asks fewer follow-up questions and the students begin sharing how they are doing without the aid of pre-chosen questions.
- Assessment Conference: Unlike the reflection conference, the focus here is less about reflecting on the process and more about students judging their own mastery of the content. We use the Standards-Based Assessment Grid (attached to the resource you can download) as a way to figure out the level of mastery on particular standards.