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If we want to empower students to own the assessment process, we need to incorporate meaningful self-assessment and peer assessment into our lessons. However, students still need guidance from their teachers. This is why I love five-minute conferences. Unlike a deep dive tutoring session or a longer conversation, these 5-minute conversations provide a quick opportunity to guide reflection, provide feedback, discuss the mastery of standards, or simply do a pulse check. In this article, I share strategies for implementing a five-minute student conferencing system.

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The Five-Minute Conference

When I teach our lesson planning and assessment courses, I make it a goal to have two 5-minute conferences with each student over a period of six classes. Note that it’s easier when the classes are in person but it still works well via Zoom. We just have to get a little more creative with the process. While ten minutes of one-on-one conferencing might not seem like a big deal, it’s often the very thing that students mention in course evaluations. In other words, it matters to my students.

I actually began this conferencing process about fifteen or sixteen years ago and it’s one of my favorite ways to engage in meaningful feedback.

During these conferences, students are empowered to ask questions about their work and to reflect on both the product and the process. They are able to navigate how they are doing and what they need to do to improve. This can help build metacognition.




My goal is for students to know the following:

  • What they know
  • What they don’t know
  • What they need to know
  • What next steps they need to take
  • Where they can get help (including help from me)

When teachers use these short conferences, assessment moves from a teacher-directed monologue into a back-and-forth dialogue. As this occurs, teachers get the chance to know the students on a more personal level. This allows for a better approach to differentiated instruction. But it also increases engagement. Research has demonstrate that the teacher-student relationship plays a vital role in student engagement. Students feel known on a deeper level, which then increases trust. This, in turn, leads to a higher level of student self-efficacy and helps prevent discipline issues. But it’s more than that. In my own experience as a middle school teacher, it was a chance to get to know quieter students. I experienced this firsthand. Before doing one-on-one conferencing, I accidentally ignored some of the quiet kids who were doing just fine in class. The five-minute conferences helped guarantee that I met with each student every week. It was a safety net for a student who might slip through the cracks.

Meanwhile, this saved me time. Every conference was essentially a chance for ongoing formative assessment. As a result, I spent less time grading (especially leaving feedback on student work). Meanwhile, it allowed me to thrive as an introverted teacher. I need this time one-on-one with students because the large crowd can feel exhausting. As an introvert, I could recharge while meeting one-on-one with students.

 

The Four Types of Conferences

The following are the four types of conferences I use with students:

  • Advice Conference: This conference is all about learning specific skills that students are missing. Each student must ask the teacher a series of questions based upon an area where he or she is struggling. This is a chance for targeted one-on-one attention and explicit help with a strategy. Students guide the process, tapping into the teacher’s expertise. This has the added bonus of encouraging students to embrace the idea that mistakes as a part of the learning process. It sets up a classroom culture where every student must be humble enough to admit that they are still struggling in some area of reading.
  • Reflection Conferences: Instead of telling students what to do, the goal is to draw out student reflection. The teacher uses a series of reflective questions to lead students through the process of metacognition and into the setting and monitoring of goals. As the year progresses, the teacher asks fewer follow-up questions and the students begin sharing how they are doing without the aid of pre-chosen questions.
  • Mastery Conference: Unlike the reflection conference, the focus here is less about reflecting on the process and more about students judging their own mastery of the content. We use the Standards-Based Assessment Grid as a way to figure out the level of mastery on particular standards.
  • Pulse check: This is an informal conference in which the teacher simply checks in to see how a student is doing. This is the most open-ended of the conferences and does not require a particular protocol. These are ideal when a student is suddenly missing work or seeming to struggle. However, they can also be helpful in general just to see how students are doing. Students might talk about how they feel about the class and the subject or their group members. Often, a teacher guides students on reflecting around SEL components, like empathy, awareness, communication, etc.

 

Feedback Conference Reflection Conference Mastery Conference Pulse Check
The Focus Targeted help / instruction in specific areas of reading Guiding students toward self-reflection A conversation about the mastery of standards Seeing how a student is doing on a personal level
Role of the Student Ask questions and seek out specific feedback Answer questions and reflect on his or her learning Talk about progress toward specific standards Answer questions and asks questions if needed
Role of the Teacher Answer questions with accuracy and precision and allow for students to practice a strategy under supervision Ask questions, paraphrase answers and guide students toward self-reflection Ask questions about progress and share information based upon evidence of student work. Ask general questions about how a student is doing (often these have an SEL component)
Further Application Students leave with actionable steps to fix a particular work Students can select the strategies and plan for future improvement based upon self-reflection. Students can figure out what standards still need to be mastered and how to get there Students may or may not leave with a set of “next steps”
Role in Cultivating a Growth Mindset Every student has a chance to admit to failure and learn from it Every student has a chance to articulate areas where they are growing and where they still need to grow Every student is able to realize that there are as many retakes as necessary until they master the standards Every student is able to articulate how they are doing and where they may need to grow at a more personal level

 

The Logistics: When and How to Run These

The following are some of the questions you might have about running a conferencing system:

Do you meet with every student?

When I taught middle school departmentalized (one subject), I had a goal of meeting with each student every other week. When I taught self-contained (all subjects), I met with every student every week. I often scheduled 1-3 conferences per day with students who needed additional support. Ultimately, you know your students the best and you can devise a system that works for you.

When do you run these conferences?

Find the best moments where kids can be talking to each other while working independently. This allows for the class to work at a buzzing, not-too-loud noise level while I talk to students individually. It might be during a warm-up, during independent practice, or during extended project times. You might excuse a student from the exit slip at the end of a class period and do a quick pulse check meeting. As you start running conferences, you’ll start noticing those little moments when conferencing makes sense.

How do you find the time for this?

If you want to meet with each student each week, you’ll need to plan out five or six mini-conferences per class period each class period. Each conference lasts about 5 minutes. If you teach self-contained (all day), you might aim for one short conference each hour. In a class of twenty-five, that would be a meeting with each student each week. Here’s a snapshot of one week. Note that I taught students in a 75-minute block, so 25 minutes still allowed for plenty of time devoted to direct instruction, small workshops, helping groups, etc.

MONDAY TUESDAY WEDNESDAY THURSDAY FRIDAY
Meet with:

Student 1

Student 2

Student 3

Student 4

Student 5

Meet with:

Student 6

Student 7

Student 8

Student 9

Student 10

Meet with:

Student 11

Student 12

Student 13

Student 14

Student 15

Meet with:

Student 16

Student 17

Student 18

Student 19

Student 20

Meet with:

Student 21

Student 22

Student 23

Student 24

Student 25

While that’s ideal, you might teach larger classes or you might have shorter class periods (around 45-60 minutes). In this case, you might aim for three conferences per class period and meet with each student every other week.

MONDAY TUESDAY WEDNESDAY THURSDAY FRIDAY
Meet with:

Student 1

Student 2

Student 3

Meet with:

Student 4

Student 5

Student 6

Meet with:

Student 7

Student 8

Student 9

Meet with:

Student 10

Student 11

Student 12

Meet with:

Student 13

Student 14

Student 15

Meet with:

Student 16

Student 17

Student 18

Meet with:

Student 19

Student 20

Student 21

Meet with:

Student 22

Student 23

Student 24

Meet with:

Student 25

Student 26

Student 27

Student 28

Student 29

Student 30

It helps to give students specific days when they know they will have a conference. This allows students to feel prepared ahead of time. Over time, it becomes a habit. A student knows that Wednesday is her day. Still, you might put a schedule up on your board or in the area where you hold your conferences. If you’re really on top of it, you could schedule reminder emails to your students. Confession: I was never that organized or proactive. I kept a schedule on the wall but then called students over by saying their name aloud.

What’s the best location?

Every teacher is different. Some love to pull students over to the kidney-shaped table and lean in while they talk. This allows the teacher to still see the entire class. Others might walk over and sit next to a student at their desk or table. When I taught middle school, I had a spot in front of the board that worked as a standing center. I could look out at the class and stand directly next to the student in the conference. We shared a laptop computer screen and we were side by side chatting. It comes down to whatever allows you to feel comfortable while still monitoring the rest of the class.

What do you prepare ahead of time?

Students don’t like to feel caught off guard and sometimes the phrase, “Can I see you up front?” leads to a panic. This is why it helps to explain the conferencing purpose and process. Students should know that it’s not disciplinary and it won’t be graded. They should also know ahead of time when they will meet with the teacher. You might provide optional handouts for students to use. These can function as a blueprint for the process. The pulse check option doesn’t require a handout but you might use an emoji chart answering “How am I feeling?” or you might give a student a survey ahead of time. This gives you something to discuss when you meet together.

 

Get the System for Free

It’s funny how much can be accomplished with a simple five-minute conversation. It can be a chance to guide students in self-reflection, help provide needed advice, or work provide a chance to review mastery of standards. This is why I tend to schedule short, five-minute conferences with students in each class period. If you’re interested in the Five-Minute Conferencing System,  you can download it by filling out this form below:

 

 

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.More about me

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