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Time to Talk

Why taking a few minutes to confer with students is worth the class time – and can be done in more ways than one

We know that there is real power in face-to-face conversation. We also know that feedback is powerful. That makes taking the time to conference with students an imperative. But it’s something many don’t do because they believe it is too time consuming. I would argue it is time well spent, and that it can be done in more ways than one.

First, conferences can be for reading or writing or even for a big project or presentation. Focus on feedback and individualized instruction. They can take place during workshop and can happen daily depending on the focus of the workshop.

Second, you can conference with students in different ways.

  • One-on-one – This is when you meet for a few minutes one-on-one with a student to work on individual student needs.

  • Teacher to small group/partners – This is when the teacher has grouped the students by instructional need and meets with them to work on that specific need.

  • Peer review– This is when the teacher sets up peer review time and allows students to conference with each other. It might not be the teacher, but the feedback can still be valuable.

  • Author’s chair – This is when students are in small groups and read aloud their writing. They get feedback from everyone in the group. Please note: this must be modeled beforehand by the teacher. This includes the modeling of how to give quality feedback and constructive criticism.

For all the above, the teacher should keep notes on what each student is working on – including strengths and opportunities. Many teachers call this the “status of the class” report.

So what happens in these conferences?

  • Focus on where the student(s) is at skills-wise. What are they doing well? Where do they need to go? Ask the student where they have questions or need help. The student drives the conference.

  • Give feedback. Deep learning can’t happen without it.

  • Deliver instruction to the student or group. Make sure you take a moment to re-teach or model the skill the students are working on.

  • Set a goal or next steps. So what happens next? What should the student do? Ask the student or group to set a goal.

So what happens if you’ve never set up conferences as a key part of your instruction?

  • Set a realistic goal – Start small. Maybe for the first six-weeks it’s a goal of meeting with every student once. Maybe you increase that second six-weeks or you add some small group conference time.

  • Keep track – Write notes and track where you are. Who have you met with? Who have you not?

  • Keep going – Maybe you didn’t meet your goal. That doesn’t mean you give up. Keep trying. It’s worth it for student learning!

So get talking! You’ll get to know your students and up your differentiation game all in one!

Have tips and tricks for conferences? Let me know!

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