These days small class sizes are a novelty. If you work in a city system as I did, the norm was a class of 30 students or more.
This year, most of my classes are maxed out at 34. When there are this many students in each class, the idea of conducting classroom conferences can be onerous and may even feel daunting at best.
But there are ways to ensure class time is indeed spent talking to students about their learning with minimal out-of-class commitments.
Much of how it will work is about planning.
As with most important learning experiences in school, the organization has a lot to do with the success of the project and if we treat a round of conferences like a project, we can set up a timeline to efficiently speak with every child about his/her learning.
Here is one way to conduct meaningful conferences during your classes:
Select a week where you know you will be doing some kind of project-based learning that requires little to no direct instruction in the classroom. You can still administer a mini- lesson if necessary, but really try to plan so that the conferences coincide with work time. This should preferably be at midterm and also at end term. You will be meeting with individual students throughout the semester, of course, but not as formally as you are planning to now. Students should be doing meaningful group or independent work while you are talking to individual students.
Once the week has been selected, develop a Google form that will work for your needs to help students prepare for the time they will sit with you. Again, students shouldn't be thinking about learning only at this point, they should be prepared to talk though. On-going reflection should be a regular expectation.
Since students will be prepared for the discussion, you can plan for a set amount of time during class. Make sure the forms are filled out at least 1 day prior to the conference
schedule. Give students at least a week to complete the form so it isn't just a cursory process, but one where they actually think about what they write in a productive way.
Read their words before you sit down with them. It's easier if you set a schedule based on which students completed the form first and go in that order.
Jot down things you notice or highlight them in the form if you have questions after you have pre-read. When you speak with students try to mention at least one thing you noticed, so they know you read what they wrote and give importance to the time they took to put it together.
Make the list of the students (the schedule) public so students know when their turn to go is and you can minimize the amount of time transitioning between students. I like to post it on the whiteboard and kids can see the order. In the first round of the season, I actually email the list out first for the week. I have found, however, having the reminder up on the board is helpful even with the email.
Stick to the plan as much as possible. Since you've already read what they've written, you want to obtain information you have questions about. I send out an email prior to the week, so kids know exactly what to expect. For example, they should tell me what they are most proud of and why, where they are most improved and what level of proficiency they have reached, and what evidence they have for that. Sometimes I like to ask them what one goal is moving forward that we can start working on as well.
If you are the kind of person who loses time quickly, have a timer set so that you can move through students efficiently.
I keep a list of what students say both digitally and in writing to add specific notes. This helps later for data purposes as well as evidence if needed for parent or administrative conversations.
It's important to make sure that students keep track of what they say as well so that their progress is in their hands as they start to put together their portfolios for the end of the year. If we teach learners to be responsible for their feedback, they can effectively make goals and track growth better. This will make reflections more meaningful and learning more focused.
Late or missing students who didn't fill out the form go last as these sessions are likely to take longer. You may consider setting their appointments up during lunch or before school or after so that they can have some privacy if necessary. No student gets out of having these conferences.
Once the conferences have been completed, there are no surprises come report card time. Students know what is going on and so do parents. These conversations keep learning transparent and progress is always in the open. Making sure that students understand where their mastery level is and what needs improvement ensures continued growth and focus in the upcoming term; it also helps us differentiate better.
How do you gauge student learning in a way that is both meaningful to your teaching and to the student's reflective process? Please share
*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in January 2016