I’ve been asked by a few people lately how I go about conferencing with students. Despite the fact that the word comes up with a wiggly red line when typed into Word, it’s a vital part of my classroom program. It’s much of the difference between well behaved, engaged, self-directed time wasting and ensuring productive personalisation of learning. Here are some questions I’ve been asked:
How long does it take?
It depends on the student. Some students will come to me requiring more help, guidance and time than others. You need to allow for this flexibility, I think. I would say around 5-7 mins is pretty average though.
How do you ensure you are seeing the students that need you?
I work hard at the beginning of the year to get a culture of honesty and openness about their learning going. So, to begin with, I will instigate conferences with students then later in the year the students are expected to ask me for a conference. This way I get to help those who need help when they identify they need it and re-set goals with those who need a new challenge. If there are any students who I haven’t checked in with for a while, I’ll instigate the conference. I keep a weekly log of who I’ve seen each week in terms of their individual goals, completion of their work at the end of the week and I keep a log of whose blogs I have written feedback on too.
What’s the result of the conference?
At the end of the conference, I put a sticker in their book that has an avatar of me on saying “I’ve conferenced with you.” I don’t write screeds in books that the students are never going to look at. This sticker is there so that parents and so on know that I have chatted to the child about their learning one-on-one at that time. However, if I think the child is going to forget something we discussed I’ll get them to jot it down in their own words beside the sticker. This way I know they have understood and that they can return to this later for guidance if they need it. The student and I will also often colour in, highlight and annotate their work as we go though it together. Most of the feedback they get will be verbal and related to the learning intention.
How does the student know they are ready to conference?
Students will put their name on the board when they are ready for a conference under different subject headings. They decide to do this either if they are struggling to meet a goal/learning intention and need help or if they think they have met the goal/learning intention. If it is the latter, I expect them to have proof or evidence, which is usually highlighted or annotated by the student in preparation for the conference (of course, this depends on the LI). With this evidence, students come to the conference prepared and ready to lead the conversation.
How do you ensure there is the time for all of this?
Firstly, if the child has done the preparation for the conference and knows exactly what they want to discuss, this cuts down the conference time an awful lot. Secondly, having a flexible, self-directed program like My-learning allows for this time to occur I tend to schedule a couple of hours each week where I’m neither teaching a group or the whole class and have the time to conference 1:1. I’ve found this is best done in small, say half hour, chunks spread throughout the week so that students get the needs met as quickly as possible. Lastly, I think it’s important to solely conference on the learning intention or success criteria. That way your discussion and feedback are focused and, incidentally, take less time.