Student conferencing is one of the most powerful ways that you can build student agency and transform your classroom. However, as a teacher, student conferencing with every student can be challenging when we need to focus on other aspects of prep and planning. It took me a while before I realized the importance of prioritizing student conferencing. My mindset about the value of student conferences shifted last year when each day I pulled a group of 5-6 students during ELA and held individual conferences with each of them. These were students I also taught during the day for social studies however, our small group time always felt special and unique. My group would gather their belongings and follow my lead to travel to our conference table in the back of the classroom. They knew we were ready to go when they saw me pick up my conferencing folder, teacher pens, scented markers, and furry friends’ toys! We had a special bond, routine, expectations, and drive. We (I think I can speak authentically for my students here) loved conferencing time!
On one particular day, due to scheduling conflicts, I wasn’t able to pull my group. I was okay with this and didn’t think much of it until one of my students scheduled for conferencing saw me walking out of the class rather than grabbing my materials for small group conferences and called me out, “ Ms. Bernier, I get to come to your group today right?” Shocked, I realized I had not told my group I wasn’t conferencing with them that day. I felt awful. Something they found so valuable I had taken for granted and had not prioritized. I apologetically responded to him, “No, sorry I won’t today but I’ll see you in social studies.” He didn’t respond. It was at that moment that I began to reflect on just how valuable the 1:1 conference meetings were to my students, times that they truly looked forward to, and actually missed if they didn’t happen. Through my reflection, I also realized that student conferencing doesn’t have to feel heavy. These five strategies for student conferencing will not only help prioritize student conferencing but will also lead to valuable and positive experiences for you and your students that you will not want to miss:
1- Prepare: No one likes it when someone shows up to a meeting unprepared and neither do our students! Come to the conference having intellectually worked through the relevant assignment yourself and know your students’ goals. If you want to discuss non-academic topics, practice what you want to say and have a clear sense of what you hope to accomplish at the conference. In preparation for your conferences, be sure to set expectations so that students know what they should be doing while they wait for their turn. Remember, these can be short meetings. If you are prepared, five minutes should be sufficient time to have a valuable conference.
2- Plan: Make a schedule of when you will conference with each student AND communicate it with them. It is helpful to include the specific time and day you will confer, and include the objectives you hope to achieve together during the conference. Students will feel invested in the process if they feel included. There is no need to surprise your students with a “Pop Conference.” It is also important to plan a comfortable space for conferences as pre-establishing a location will save on transition time and set the conference up for success. Try creating a spreadsheet that includes all of this information. You might also add a note section next to each student’s name to record notes during the conversation.
3-Engage: Let this be a conversation! Students want to feel seen and heard. Allow student conferences to be an opportunity for students to take charge of their understanding and learning. If a student seems stuck, support them by providing probing questions rather than giving away the answer. Let students first voice what they think their strengths and weaknesses are. This will build student investment in the conferencing process and allow for authenticity and personalization. The experience should be unique and individualized for each student. By engaging students, you are building their metacognitive skills and encouraging them to dive deeper into their learning and create new growth possibilities.
4- Set goals: Be SMART with your goal setting. Goal setting should be personalized to each learner. I recommend you try co-creating goals with your students. Co-creating will help students gain a deeper understanding of their learning and enhance their motivation. At the end of each conference, you will have learned and observed a great deal about your student’s learning and achievement pathway. Use this data to influence future goal setting. This data will allow for differentiated instruction to meet the needs of each student. In the end, be specific, and stick to one or two areas you want the student to focus on next. It is key to model for students what you are asking them to do. Before leaving the conference, have your student state back to you in their own way what their goal is.
5- Have Fun: Great teacher-student relationships can be created through student conferences. This 1:1 time allows you to step back and learn more about your students academically and as people. “Talk less, listen more”. Carefully observe and listen to their learning process. Smile and affirm them. A simple furry friend, teacher pen, small joke, smelly marker, or something your students like, can add to the excitement of student conferences.
Good luck and enjoy prioritizing 1:1 student conferencing! If you have other strategies for student conferencing, feel free to share them with me at email@example.com.