Conferencing With Students in the Upper Grades

Conferencing with students...every teacher's dream, right? But who has the time you ask?  We all do! Here's why I make a point to conference with my students in my high school English classes, and why you should, too!

Conferencing is a powerful tool for building relationships with our students.  Not only does meeting individually help us get to know our kiddos, but it also lets them know that we're interested in their progress and we want to see them improve.  In these brief conferences, teachers gain a better understanding of the student as a whole.  We are able to talk one on one, and sure, much of that discussion is educational, but we can also ask how their game went, or how they are doing in their other classes.  To better teach our students, we have to know our students, and conferencing helps to open that door.  That, itself, is important.  But there's so much more that conferencing can do...

Conferencing can:
  • Give students real-time feedback on a current assignment
  • Reinforce what they are doing well
  • Provide the student freedom to ask questions about their work that they wouldn't ask in a whole-class setting
  • Allow for student self-reflection
  • Offer differentiated instruction for individual students
  • Give additional practice and examples with one-on-one assistance
  • Provide a quiet work time for students who are not conferencing
  • Allow students to set goals for their progress in class
  • Provide teachers with actual data of what students need

Recently, during our first process essay of the year, I made a point to conference with each of my students during the week.  I'd start class with a mini-lesson to set the purpose for the day, and the students would work independently on their drafts.  As the class worked, I'd call students one by one to my conference table to chat.  They'd bring their previous one-page essays (the ones that were leading up to this essay) and their essay planning sheet.  While we talked, I had a plan that looked something like this:
  1. Ask them how their day is going, what they have planned after school or on the weekend, etc.
  2. Ask them how they're feeling about class--any concerns, any challenges, any questions?
  3. Ask for them to talk briefly about their previous writings.  As we looked at them, I'd ask what the easy parts were for them, and more importantly, what were the challenges.
  4. We'd discuss the challenging parts and I'd offer some tips to help them through.
  5. At the end of the conference, I'd ask them one area that they'd like to improve in, and we made that their writing goal.

And just look:

From several days of conferencing, I got to know my students a little better.  And, even better, I got to see what my students feel are their strengths and weaknesses.  I got to ask deeper questions and find out more of what they need help with.  And, just look.  From this little notetaker, I was able to identify the work I need to do.  I can see their top areas of need and can plan accordingly.  I can group students according to need, I can provide specific mini-lessons that will help them grow, and I can track whether these small interventions are working by the essays they turn in and our future conferences.

I'll say it again, conferencing has been a game-changer for me! If you've never tried it because you thought you didn't have the time, I challenge you to add it to your lesson plans. You'll see what a difference it makes in your classroom!

And, if you click here, I've made a few conference trackers for you to use.  Enjoy!

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