Last week, I wrote about ways to make time for conferences. The focus for those conferences was on skill building and assessing whether or not your students are getting the concepts you want them to learn. But how can you use conferences to reduce your grading after school?
You actually grade the assignment right there, in class, in front of the student.
I know, it sounds daunting. But, if you can make it work, it’s a beautiful thing. First of all, you don’t take any grading home. It’s all done in class. Second, and most importantly, the students get SO much more out of the feedback process than if they just read written comments, especially if you have your conference with a computer on hand (I’ll explain that in a bit).
So before I go on to show you how you how to use conferences to reduce your grading, let me make it clear that you should not try this unless you AND your students are used to the whole concept of conferencing. For you to have the time and focus to do this, your students will need to be used to the routines and expectations of conferencing. If they are, you are ready to take it to the next level.
You also don’t want to start this with a long assignment. It works best if you begin with something shorter, where you are looking at only a handful of skills.
Let me show you how this works with an example from my class:
Next week, my kids will be writing a paragraph that analyzes the effect of point of view and perspective in the individual novels they are reading. I want them to have a clear introductory statement and an effective conclusion. They will also need to back up their points with multiple details and two properly embedded and cited quotations. I’m scaffolding the skills they will need to write a full literary analysis later in the semester, so I want to ensure that they have the basics down.
Students will submit their paragraphs to me on Google Classroom and during the conference, I will read it out loud with the student (I suggest that you do this while the other kids are doing group work, so they aren’t listening. Or, if your kids are good at this conferencing thing, pull the student out into the hallway. That’s what most of our teachers do). I like reading it out loud, because both the student and I can hear how well the paragraph flows.
As we go through it, I will point out the things they did well: great topic sentence! It’s very clear and focused. OR That’s an excellent quotation to back up that point. I will also ask questions to lead the kids toward discovering where they could have done a better job: So, you made your point, but what’s missing? What should come after this? OR This is a great quotation choice, but what’s missing here after the quotation mark?
With these questions, you can teach or review, right on the spot, the skill that they need to work on.
Here’s the best part. When the student answers these questions, they can fix the issues on the spot – or at least write a note to themselves: I need another example here. OR Citation. They can type these notes right into the text – or write it in the margin if the assignment is hand-written.
This process becomes even more powerful if you follow it with another assignment where the students can practice what they have learned. In my case, a few days after we finish these conferences, my students will write another paragraph explaining how one character trait is developed in the protagonist in their novel.
Now, I know what you’re wondering, because it’s the same wonder I had when I heard about this process the first time: how long does this take and how can you take so much time from directing the other students?
The time part is the easiest to answer: because I do this with short assignments, it only takes about five minutes. I have a clear focus and resist the urge to get pulled in another direction. For example, I’ll ignore grammatical issues or poor word choice – unless that’s the skill I want to target. This is a powerful strategy, folks, because the kids are focused too.
It’s also incredibly powerful because you know the students heard the feedback. It’s not crumpled up in their back pack somewhere, wasted and ignored.
The second question – what are the other kids doing? – depends a lot on how you plan things. First of all, as I said earlier, don’t do this unless your class is used to the idea of conferencing. Then, you need to have some activities ready to keep them busy. This process will take you several days, so you’ll have to design your class around that.
If you’re already workshopping, it won’t be that hard, as kids will be used to working independently or doing some peer feedback while you are busy. It’s also a great time to give your students some collaborative activities to work on while you conference. As I said, I’ll be doing this next week, and my kids will be either reading, working on the draft of a narrative essay, or doing some of the group activities I use to introduce that assignment. During each class, I will take breaks between conferences to make sure everyone is on task, or to ask questions.
Tip: one strategy I use during this time is to put a clipboard on a desk near the door. If students have a question while I’m conferencing, they record it there, and I can deal with it quickly when I’m on one of my “breaks.”
A final thought: teachers worry about what the other kids are doing during a conference. It’s true, that they won’t be as focused as they would be if you were there. However, the benefits gained from the conferences are so great, that they far outweigh the little bit of off-task time that might occur while you’re doing them.
So, there it is. I hope you can see how you can use conferences to reduce your grading, and that you can find a way to try it with your students. Mine always tell me they learn so much more when I give them direct feedback like this, which is so very wonderful. However, it’s not as wonderful as that free time you’ll have because you’ve done your grading during the school day!
Let me know if you have any questions! And click here for some ready made guides for conferencing.