Three Critical Mind Shifts for Successful Student Conferencing

Hey Coach,

I’ve been reading a lot about the power of individual student conferencing. This is a strategy I want to use in my classroom, but I’m feeling a major time crunch! How can I find the time to conference with every student?

Out of Time Teacher

Dear Out of Time Teacher,

Good for you! It sounds like you recognize the importance of individual student conferencing. When it comes to building relationships with students and collecting specific information about their progress, nothing beats a 1:1 conference.

Not only that, but student conferencing is an integral part of the dynamic communication that takes place within a personalized learning environment. As Stephanee Stephens and Anisa Lokey-Vega explain in the white paper, A Vision for Personalized Learning, these conferences offer important opportunities for learners to voice their needs, preferences, and interests to plan and drive their education.

Yet, teachers are often hesitant to implement classroom conferencing. With everything on the teacher's plate, it can feel impossible to find time in the day to meet with students individually! But don’t worry - a simple shift in thinking can help overcome these hurdles.

Mind Shift #1: Student conferencing saves time in the long run.
Start by reframing your thinking about that time crunch. In many ways, individual conferences can actually save you time and energy! For example:
  • Knowing your students as individuals is a large part of what makes teaching enjoyable! Individual time with students strengthens the student-teacher relationship, which empowers students.
  • Getting to know students individually makes it quicker and easier for teachers to personalize instruction.
  • Having a strong relationship with students makes discipline issues much easier to address.
  • A one-to-one conference is the perfect time for students to track and reflect on their data so they are always aware of their progress in class. This leads to increased student autonomy.
  • Conferencing IS assessment. Conferences provide the perfect opportunity to check-in on student understanding. This means less time grading outside of class, and giving students feedback through meaningful discussions with students in the classroom.
Mind Shift #2: Treat conferencing as an expectation and a routine.
  • Just like any other expectation or routine, conferencing is a skill that must be taught
  • There are different types of student conferencing. Take a look at John Spencer’s Feedback Conferences, Reflection Conferences, and Assessment Conferences, so you can choose the best style for individual students.
  • Use guiding questions and sentence stems from Spencer’s Five-Minute Conferencing System to scaffold the student’s experience during his or her conference. By providing instructional support during the conferences, especially the first few, we can establish a strong foundation so meaningful discussion and reflection can take place.
Mind Shift #3: Lay out the logistics.
As you mentioned, time is always a factor! But with a little preparation, you’ll find that successfully launching student conferences is not as difficult as you might think.
  • Who - Who are you going to start with? We suggest starting your conferences with one or two students who like to help other students because they are eager to share their experience and will put their classmates at ease.
  • What - What are your first conferences going to be about? Try starting with something that is a strength or interest to your student (it might be different for each student). This will help establish conferencing as something fun and enjoyable, and it will help students get over the initial awkwardness.
  • Where - Where are you going to have the conferences? We suggest making it a neutral area, not your desk and not the student’s desk. Finding a quiet area away from the hustle and bustle of the other students but close enough for you to keep an eye on them.
  • When - This is the crux, isn’t it? Certainly we suggest you formulate a plan to meet with your students. But, don’t overlook those few minutes here and there when students are working with little direction from you. These opportunities can be a great way to sneak in one or two conferences.
  • Why - Be sure your students know why you are using student conferencing. By understanding that it is an opportunity for you to get to know them, their interests, and goals for learning they will quickly understand that conferencing is not a punishment.
When you’re ready to dive into some detailed planning, check out our Teacher’s Guide to Individual Student Conferences, which features a step-by-step process to plan an effective system for 1:1 conferences in your classroom.

And when the going gets tough, as it tends to do when we try something new, just remember your “why.” By working through these important mindshifts, we can better equip ourselves to provide students with this valuable time for individual discussion, reflection, and support, while still preserving critical instructional time.

I’d love to hear how conferencing works in your class - comment below or find #HeyiTeachCoach on Twitter at @ksuiteach!

Best wishes,

Contributing Coaches Ana Moreno, Anna Bilyeu, and Ana Hale


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