I’m on a mission to help other teachers use this wonderful strategy, so I’m sharing 4 ways to make time to conference.
I’m a huge fan of conferencing with kids. There are several very good reasons for that: conferences allow you get to know your students, to teach more effectively, and to reduce your grading load. The problem is that while you take fewer papers home, you need to do more organizing and managing during your classes.
And that isn’t always so easy to do.
However, I can tell you, unequivocally, that it is so worth it. I’ve told you before that it’s been a game-changer for me as a teacher – but even more importantly, it’s helped my students learn so much more than what I used to do. (If you aren’t convinced, you can read more here: Five Reasons to Start Conferencing Now).
If you are convinced of the beauty of the conference, but just aren’t sure how to work them into the crazy-busy that is your day, I’ve got some strategies for you.
Let me show you how I make it work:
1. Get Focused & Organized Before You Conference
This, for me, is ultra-important. If I don’t have a clear, organized plan, the conferencing doesn’t go well; I just slip back into my old way of doing things and they go by the wayside. It has happened more than once.
Now, I have a list of skills that I want to focus on and corresponding forms that allow me to stay organized. The forms go into a binder that’s dedicated to each class and it includes my notes and assessments for all of my students. These notes are invaluable when it comes time for parent conferences and report cards too!
This took some up front planning. There’s no denying that. However, now that I have it all done, I can use the process with all of my classes in the future. There were growing pains in the beginning, that’s for sure, but now conferencing is just another part of my daily routine.
2. Decide How & When to Conference
I’m well aware that the practical application of conferencing is harder than just sitting at your desk planning to do one.
My reality is no different than yours. I’ve conferenced with small classes and huge ones. I’ve done it with “good” classes and ones that challenged me every day.
However, I have some strategies that I use to help me make it work, regardless of which class I have.
First of all, I have my trusty binder to keep me focused and organized. I know whose turn it is for a conference and how many students I can fit into the class time, based on the activities I have planned for the day.
This part is pretty important. You need to have a plan for what the rest of the students will be doing while your attention is elsewhere.
Every class is a little different, but mine usually begin with a writing prompt or some other bell ringer. Then, I do a mini-lesson and give kids a task to do based on the lesson.
At some point in each class, the kids will be reading and/or writing independently. And, several times a week, they will be working in groups, having discussions or working on some sort of activity. Each of these scenarios offer me different opportunities to conference. The only time I need to be in the front of the room is during the mini-lesson; otherwise, I’m free to work with students.
But how do I keep them all working? Read on, but first, click here to get a list of ideas for activities that your kids can do while you conference.
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3. Train Your Students
As with anything we do, we want our kids to know how something is going to work and what we expect of them while we’re doing it. I find that if I don’t put in the time teaching and reinforcing these routines, then things will inevitable fall apart. When I do, students will eventually get to a place where the class goes just the way I want it to.
I have to stress that you just can’t skip this part of the process. Put in the time to teach and reinforce at the beginning of your semester, and it will pay dividends to you for the rest of the year.
First of all, students will need to know what happens during a conference and what to do to prepare for them. Always tell them the day before that it’s their time to meet with you, and make it clear what the focus will be, so they can get ready.
When they come to you prepared, the conference goes much more quickly, allowing you to get through more in a day. At the beginning of the year, if a student comes to me unprepared, I send them back with instructions to be ready the next day. They soon get the message that I’m not going to accept a lack of preparation.
4. Dealing with Too Many Students:
Just like you, I’ve had to deal with too many kids in my classroom. It’s frustrating, but there are some things you can do to make sure you get to conference with all of them. One of the easiest ways is to have “Quickie-Conferences.” Choose skills to focus on that can be assessed with a one or two minute chat.
For example, you might focus on mechanical issues and ask each kid to show you where they have used a semi-colon properly. Or you might ask them to show you where they have used dialogue in a narrative. They can quickly show you, and you can assess (and check off) if they have done so correctly.
If not, you have a quick chat with them and then move on to the next student. Put your class list on a clipboard and note the skills you want to conference on, and take it with you as you circulate.
Another way to deal with bigger numbers is to conference with small groups. Set up some chairs by your desk and speak to small groups of three to five all at once. They still get some focused attention from you, and you can reach more students during one class.
I hope I’ve given you some strategies that you can use to create regular conferencing time in your classroom. Don’t forget to sign up to get a “cheat sheet” of tips and strategies for conferencing. And, you can check the links below to get more feedback strategies:
Use Better Feedback Strategies: Students will learn more and you’ll work less!