I wasn’t planning to write a post today, but during my twelfth grade class this morning, I was reminded of how powerful our final assessment conferences are, and I wanted to share that with you.
But first a little background:
Our English department has, over the last number of years, developed a final assessment for our students that is process based, rather than a sit down, pen and paper exam. The students answer the following question: what have you learned about human nature, based on the literature you have studied in this course? They need to reference three different texts and make connections to the real world.
The final paper is due on Thursday, but last week they had to go through and pass in several steps of the process it takes to write a great essay. First, they participate in a small group seminar that explores the topic; then, they pass in a thesis/proposal for my feedback. Over the next few days they work on collecting the evidence they will need to complete the assignment. They pass in these notes for feedback as well. For each step, they are given a grade, with 40% of the final devoted to the process, and 60% for the final copy.
The last step before the good copy is to meet with me to discuss their progress. Today, they needed to show me a complete first draft of the essay and, more importantly, be ready to discuss what they need to do to turn their draft and ideas into a final product. To do this, they were instructed to go through the feedback they’ve gotten over the semester to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, and to inform their decisions about what to work on in the final stages of the process.
These conferences are always the best part of the year with my students. Because it’s their final assessment, most of them take it very seriously, even the ones who didn’t always put forth their best effort all year. Most spend quite a bit of time reflecting on their feedback, and so we have some very meaningful conversations about what they can do to improve their essay. I don’t read and revise the draft. Instead, I tell them to remind me of their thesis and to walk me through the argument. I ask them if they have any questions or concerns about the direction the work is taking them. Almost always there’s a little a-ha moment as I chat with them about their plans for the final copy. And regardless of what it is they need to work on, it’s ten minutes of one-on-one time that we get to spend together before they leave my class.
You may not have the freedom to have a final assessment like the one I described, but this type of conference could still work. If you’re having a final exam, for example, you could plan to conference with the students about what they need to work on in preparation for the exam, or on what they’ve learned about themselves as students. You just need to plan to have your class working on something that does not need your direction, and then take your students one by one for a conference. I’d suggest you take them out into the hallway to give them some privacy — it’s amazing how they can open up when you have them one on one!
Conferences are not just good for the end of the year either! You can read my post on why you should use them all year long here.