In-class student-teacher conferences are a powerful way to connect with your students and support them in the learning process. In our previous article, we explored ways to carve out time for student conferences and tutoring sessions. In this article, we’ll look at how to maximize the effectiveness of these conferences. Consider the following list of tips and suggestions, and then determine which strategies will benefit your conferencing plan.
Time is precious, so make sure you have a clear purpose for the conference time. Develop a checklist of talking points or an outline of the various parts of the conference. You might choose from some of these common conferencing goals:
- SEL: Facilitate a social and emotional check-in to see how students are doing.
- Progress: Check student progress to see if they are progressing as expected.
- Expectations: Clarify expectations to make sure that students understand what they are supposed to do.
- Reteaching: Provide a mini-lesson and fill in any gaps around prerequisite skills that might hinder success.
- Questions: Answer student questions about a project or learning experience, so they have a clear vision moving forward.
This goes for both you and your students. Students should reflect on their learning and come prepared to ask targeted questions. If this is a larger project checkpoint, determine where students should be at in the process. Based on student progress, have readily available scaffolds and supports that you can offer as needed. It can be helpful to have a catalog of support resources stored in a learning management system for easy access by both you and your students. To help your students prepare, you could also provide a conference preparation form, like this sample created in Google Docs. You could then have them complete the form before the meeting. The process and form don’t have to be fancy or complicated, but they should help prepare the student for a meaningful conversation about their learning.
These meetings don’t need to be all business, especially at first. Start each conference with a personal check-in. Get to know each student. Understand their strengths, interests, weaknesses, values, and more. Not only will this information help you better understand your learners, but it will also help to establish trust with your students. This can open up a communication channel that can benefit both you and your students beyond the conference time.
Make sure that students do most of the talking. Have them share where they are at in the learning process. Encourage them to ask questions. This empowers them and shows that you value their voice. Students may not be skilled at this, so teach them these skills and set up scaffolds as needed. Teach them to self-assess their learning before you meet and provide suggestions and guides to help them develop the questions that they will ask during your conference. This process will help them grow, both in your academic area and in self-awareness, which can last a lifetime. You can also use this process to help them embrace a growth mindset and learn how to act with autonomy and self-direction.
This goes beyond having the students do most of the talking. It means really listening to what students have to say. It also means listening with empathy and understanding. When students are really listened to, they feel valued and affirmed.
It’s okay to go beyond answering student questions and ask some of your own. Like any learner, it’s very likely that your students will have some blind spots in their learning progression. This is where your critical and caring perspective comes into play. Probe with thoughtful questions that require students to both dig deeper and reflect on their learning. This can help students learn to think metacognitively, and it can also help firm up a successful path forward.
Students progress at different paces, master skills to different degrees, and have different strengths and needs. Conferences are perfect opportunities to personalize support and avoid a one-size-fits-all, full-class approach. Begin by paying attention to gaps in understanding and performance that may impede future growth, and then target those needs.
When you see a deficit in a prerequisite skill, reteach it during the conference. This targeted reteaching provides just-in-time support for students and can help them accelerate their learning moving forward. This reteaching is most effective and efficient when it is done at the point of need.
This one-on-one time is a great opportunity to reduce student anxiety and praise them for their strengths. In addition to academic coaching, there is a life coaching aspect to student conferences that can be used to build up student confidence and inspire them as they grow.
Students should leave your conference time with an actionable takeaway. They should understand the importance of what you talked about and how it will impact them moving forward. This may come in the form of advice or suggestions provided by you, or it can take the form of an action plan that is self-selected by the student. Consider having students use a takeaway form to record their thoughts after each meeting. This can then serve as a to-do list or action plan.
Students may not be used to this approach. To increase their success, teach them what to expect, how to prepare, and what procedures you will follow. It can be powerful to model a conference in front of the classroom, so students can see it in action. If you’re not comfortable modeling it live, you could record and play back a video of a mock conference session.
It will be difficult to remember the details of each conference, especially if you have large classes or multiple sections. Therefore, consider taking notes and tracking what you talk about. This will allow you to quickly review notes from the previous conference before you begin a new one. It will help you remember what you have been focusing on, and it can be reassuring to your student when you are informed and aware of their needs and circumstances. Depending on your style, you might use a form like this Google Doc, where all students are listed on a single sheet, or you might choose to have a separate recording sheet for each student, like this one.
A one-time meeting will have a limited impact on student growth, so strive for a routine of consistent and regular conferencing. If you do it regularly, students will see it as a natural and important part of the learning process. It will also give you more consistent insights into your students, which will help you better guide them through a successful learning experience.
As you design your conference experience, consider these tips and develop a process that will benefit both you and your students. Your students will develop valuable self-assessment and self-advocacy skills, and they will receive targeted support from you in a personalized and timely manner. You will be able to provide point-of-need interventions, supports, and scaffolds that will help to accelerate student learning and increase academic success.
As a bonus, conferencing can save you time later on with grading. Because you are checking in with students throughout the process, you will already have a good idea of what the student has produced when they finally turn it in to you. This will make grading more meaningful. Students will be better informed because of your earlier conversations, and the product’s quality should be reflective of the dialogue from the ongoing conferences and feedback loop. It’s a win–win situation that can really accelerate learning in your classroom.
An AVID Connection
- Guiding Questions for Educators: Summer and Extended Learning Experiences: This is a resource designed to assist with your planning, as it offers guiding questions in the areas of building relational capacity, culture, and community; summer and extended learning content delivery; and student agency and ownership of learning.
Extend Your Learning
- How to Use Student-Teacher Conferences Effectively (Professional Learning Board)
- Conducting Student-Teacher Conferences (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
- Six Examples of What Personalized Learning Looks Like (Education Elements)