Student Conferences

It’s that time of the semester again! Student conferences!

I do look forward to having conferences with my students. I enjoy sitting down with them and talking about their drafts. To be honest, this is why I became a writing teacher – so I could talk to people about their writing. I love the process of figuring out with a fellow writer how the piece of writing they are working on could be developed and revised.

Although the goal of these conferences in first-year writing is to work together with the student/writer, there is no one correct or perfect way of doing it. Me—I prefer to collect the students’ drafts ahead of time. I read through the drafts and then make notes and questions about things I want to talk about. Then when the student/writer comes in I use this as the start of the conversation. I begin by asking questions and (hopefully) the dialogue begins and together we work out a plan for revision.

I know others do it differently – some teachers have the students bring in their drafts, some people have group conferences. But I like the chance to think about the papers before I respond. However there is a danger here. Sometimes I think too much about the drafts and I have to be careful I’m not telling the students what to do. In other words I have to be careful that I don’t take their papers over. I also need to be careful I don’t spend too much time responding to the draft before the student/writer comes to my office. One of the advantages of having student conferences is so I don’t have to spend a lot of time writing comments. The 20 or so minutes I spend in the conference is supposed to be my responding time. So I don’t want to spend another 20-30 minutes planning out my response before the conference. So I limit myself to a small post-it note. I read through the draft, make notes on a post-it note. This limits my response and also allows the conversation between myself and the student to develop since I haven’t scripted out a plan for the student’s paper.  I also always begin by asking the student to tell me what he/she is thinking. And since we have done a round of peer response before they have come to the conference, I ask them what their responders have said too. And since their responders usually have good ideas, it makes my job easier. I can validate their peer responders and build off what they have said.

But this is just the way I do it. How do you do your conferences?

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3 Responses to Student Conferences

  1. Rebecca Maillet says:

    Hi All!

    I conduct my conferences in twenty-minute intervals with each student. Unlike Peggy, however, I read my student’s essays cold during the conference. I do this for a variety of reasons. First, by doing a cold read-through in conference I am modeling the very kind of peer response skills that I would like my students to employ when they then turn to their peers’ papers. Second, the first year that I taught in the Writing Program I took my student’s essays home with me, commented on them, and then held conferences to discuss my feedback and student concerns/questions about their essay. Just as Peggy highlighted, I found that this model allowed me to get too “close” to my own desires for their revision, but unlike Peggy, I wasn’t able to pull-back on my commenting. That is to say, because I had spent so much time with each student’s essay, I had very defined ideas as to where and how I wanted them to revise. I find that when I do conferences “cold,” the dialogue between me and the student is able to hover closer their original intentions in the paper, and we can then can carve-out a revision strategy that better reflects both my suggestions and their original inclinations. The way that I make conducting a “cold” conference successful is that I suggest a page limit of 1.5–2 pages. Often students will go a bit over, but they are usually grateful for beginning their essay at a “lower stakes” word count. This also encourages not only revision for the second draft, but also adequate expansion.

    Again, everyone has different conferencing styles, and I am interested to hear what others do! What do you do?

  2. Kelin Loe says:

    Hi Everyone!

    First of all, I love conferences. They are my favorite form of response, and I do them more than once a semester. I also love the festive feeling 68 gets when everyone is conferencing together.

    I conduct my conferences the same way as Rebecca, for all the same reasons. Let me add just some additional thoughts:

    1. Poets in this program (often) do cold reading. That’s a skill I have, so I use it to save myself time.

    2. It saves you time and organizing energy.

    3. I have the students read the essay out loud to me. This way, they have to SIT in their own wild initial drafts for 5-6 minutes. They learn a lot about themselves and their own thinking, and you get to watch it all happen.

    3. I also assign a very LOW STAKES initial draft, and explain that the point of our conference is to hash out a thesis goal together. In each conference, we work together to make a visual representation of their thesis which they take home. I also make it clear that I don’t expect to recognize any of that draft in their revision.

    4. I ask them to include the copy that we wrote all over in conferences and the visual in their portfolio. Seeing my own thoughts jobs my memory-understanding of their initial draft, and this helps me save time and energy while grading.

    5. Just a tip–especially when you have 30 conferences next semester–make sure you are having THEM do the heavy lifting. Ask them questions. Guide them, but make sure you aren’t doing all the critical thinking. This will help you save your brain for the other parts of your life!

    6. An hidden goal of my conferences also is also to get to know them as humans. They are fascinating.

  3. Kelin Loe says:

    One last thing!

    Like Rebecca and Peggy say–everyone does things differently. What I just listed is good for me–and especially for my brain and body. Think about what your body does best, and do that!

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