Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Mini Conferences 2

A couple of posts back I blogged about mini conferencing after an assessment.  I have begun to do this regularly.  I really like it.  It serves multiple purposes.

First it allows me to check understanding that was incomplete on the assessment yet I feel the student actually does understand (based on formative results in the classroom).  Many times I don't score the assessment until after I have had a conversation with the student.  I want to be sure their score accurately reflects what they understand at that particular time.

Second, it allows the student and I to touch base one on one.  I try to do this with all students as often as possible, but realistically some students are more vocal with asking for help and some shy away from it.  In these conferences they have to speak to me!  I am able to probe into their thought process in order to get a better feel for where they are understanding the outcome.

Third, I am able to discuss with the student their areas of weakness (and strengths).  We can go through the questions they had errors on and discuss whether it was a simple error or something they need more help on.  One on one the student is more focused than if I simply went through the answers with the whole class.  Many times through the conversation  I have realized the error they made was not the error I assumed they made so it is easier to correct the misunderstanding.

Fourth, I am able to score the assessment AND give a comment AND have the comment looked at by the student.  Research shows (Wiliam) that if both a comment and a grade are given the student does not look at the comment.  Learning does not take place.  When they conference with me we discuss the comment!   I do have some other ideas that I would like to try down the road where the student only receives a comment, yet I can score the assessment in my gradebook, but that is for another discussion/post at a later date!

This whole process can usually be completed within 20-30 minutes of a class.  Instead of giving the assessment back at the beginning of a class, I now "teach" the next lesson and then while the students are practicing, I call them up one at a time and we have our conference.  Some are really quick as some students are at level 3 or 4, so not a lot of misconceptions.  Really when a person looks deeply at the assessment it is typically one or two misunderstandings and when the student is right in front of you it doesn't take long to correct these.  If I do have a student who is really struggling we can set another time for them to meet with me for extra help.

I have really liked this process so much that one time recently the follow up lesson included an exploration so there was no time for practice, so I told the students they had to wait an extra day for their assessment to be returned!   I wouldn't stretch the wait time out more than a day as it is important for the students to see what they have done, but one day isn't going to make a huge difference and the value of the conference outweighs the extra day!


  1. Tying a mini-conference in with an assessment is a great idea. I like how it makes the assessment more authentic—it gives space for the reality that a child understands a concept on the assessment, but just didn’t get it right. I think, too, that if a student is getting feedback that values how they are thinking (and not just a bunch of red marks for correct or incorrect) they are more likely to be willing to take risks and challenges on an assessment. Ideally, as a teacher, we are not simply assessing students on how well they take a test—but on how well they truly understand a concept.
    I also feel like mini-conferencing allows for that critical one-on-one time with the student. Assessments, in particular, can be a lonely moment for students—they are alone with the reality of what they are or are not capable of achieving at a set moment in time. By adding that crucial person-to-person connection to the assessment experience, teachers can use a potentially alienating moment for the student as a way to actually build a bond of connection.
    As usual, the key issue is time and management. Finding a way to conference with one student with so many others in the room who need to be meaningfully occupied… a challenge, but when successful a real accomplishment!