Foundations of Education and Instructional Assessment/Assessment Strategies/Conferences
by Aaron Burdon
I have been observing Mr. Charles Kennison’s 5th Grade class for the last couple weeks as a student observer and I have been fascinated at the level of involvement and enthusiasm for learning that his students have. Recently, when the students were dismissed for lunch, I was trying to figure out what to do with my time until the students returned. Mr. Kennison offered for me to sit in on what he referred to as something like a coaching session. Two of his students were going to bring their lunches back to the classroom to engage in one on one conferences with Kennison over their struggles with reading.
I felt uncomfortable at first, but Mr. Kennison assured me that it would be no problem and in fact, I would be most welcome. When I was growing up, a one-on-one conference with the teacher during lunch usually was a form of discipline; however, when these two students arrived with their lunches, they seemed almost very nonchalant about it, as if it were part of the norm. These were not students that struck me as behavior challenges and as one would meet privately with Kennison, I would informally chat with the other about various topics. It occurred to me that this personal attention to each student’s individual needs was likely the reason why the class as a whole remained deeply involved and enthusiastic about learning.
Kennison is in keeping with one of the main points of Susan M. Brookhart’s article “Feedback that Fits,” that the most effective feedback begins with knowing your students well. (Brookhart,2007/2008) These short lunchtime conferences that he has with his students allow for him to give direct, personal attention to each of his students while also instilling in them a boost of confidence in their potential for learning.
What is a personal conference?
Personal communication is just one of the many methods available for teachers to assess for learning. To put it simply, a personal conference is a conversation with a student to assess where they are and where they need to be. This kind of personalized attention, a part of Differentiated Instruction allows us to be much more effective as instructors and match the material to the students’ needs and interests. It makes it relevant to their lives and generates a sense of ownership in their own learning. (Tomlinson, 1999) As the methods of instruction and assessment continue to evolve in today’s school systems, this kind of one on one attention is vital and bears many fruit.
What are the advantages to personal conferences?
First and perhaps most important, a personal conference gives an instructor insight to where the student feels he or she is in regard to learning the necessary targets of the curriculum. The teacher also can get feedback on his or her own effectiveness in instruction and can use this feedback to tweak instruction as needed. It can also reinforce for the instructor what is working and reaching the students.
Another advantage of a personal conference is that it isolates the student from the peer pressures and self-censorship that can be prevalent in a full classroom. The feedback one receives from a student in such a conference is likely to be more genuine than if given in front of other students.
To learn more about Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson and her studies in Differentiated Instruction, visit her website at www.caroltomlinson.com.
What are the disadvantages?
One of the major disadvantages to conducting personal conferences with every student is the time that it consumes. When should it be scheduled. Should it be scheduled during class, after class, or in between class? Even the most effective personal conferencing require the instructor to manage his or her time wisely so that it does not interfere with the advancement of the rest of the class. Like with Mr. Kennison, conducting these assessments during lunchtime consume time that could be spent grading papers or just allowing the instructer to take a break. There is a tremendous sacrifice in taking a personal interest in the academic careers of ones students.
The other side of the challenge is for those who schedule these conferences during class. Often focusing 100% of an instructors attention on one student leaves the others neglected. Not every teacher has the luxury of self-motivated students or a teachers assistant to monitor them. Figuring out what to do with the other students can become more of a challenge than the conference itself.
So, what about before or after class? Now, you begin to not only interfere with the students personal time, which will require some parental contact, but also begins to take away at the teacher's personal time as well. We got into teaching for a variety of reasons, but one can assume that losing ones free time was not one of them.
Making the personal conference effective
So, how does one make the most out of these personal conferences? First of all, make sure that your students see it as a good thing, not a punishment. A great way to do this is to make sure you are consistent with them. If you only bring a student in for conference if they are performing poorly, it could be devostating to the fragile egos of young learners when you ask them to meet with you.
Another way to get the most out of these conferences is to give equal share to everyone. It isn't always the poor performers who need attention and oftentimes, those who are gifted also need similar attention. (Tomlinson, 2007/2008) Keep in mind that personal communication with ones students as a means of assessment does not necessarily need to be formal. Sometimes a casual chat out of the context of school can provide key insight into students minds and where they see themselves going.
While it is surely not the only method of personalized instruction, personal conferences with ones students can truly advance the individual understanding of their needs and motivations. Although they can be time consuming and require teachers to go beyond the curriculum, effective personal conferences can enhance an entire classroom, one student at a time.
1) What exactly is a personal conference?
A) a conversation with a student to assess where they are and where they need to be.
B) an informal chat with a small group of students on the challenges they are having in the classroom.
C) a critical meeting between parents, teachers, and students to develop an action plan when a child is performing poorly.
D) a meeting between the instructor and the principal to review the performance of the students and make critical tweaks to the instruction according to their opinions.
2) Which of these is NOT an advantage to conducting personal conferences with students?
A) It gives feedback on the possible strengths and weaknesses of the student.
B) It gives feedback on the possible strengths and weaknesses of the instructor.
C) It should always be conducted after school with parents permission.
D) It isolates the student from the pressures of classmates to receive more genuine feedback.
3) Which of these examples would be considered the best example of an effective personal conference?
A) An online chat with a group of students about the obstacles they are having with their group project.
B) A one-on-one chat with a student during lunchtime away from the cafeteria in an empty classroom.
C) A formal meeting before class with the student, his or her parents, and the principal.
D) Keeping a student after class to write a misspelled word 100 times on the chalkboard to enhance learning.
4) What is a reasonable disadvantage to conducting personal conferences with every student?
A) Students often see a personal meeting with the teacher as a punishment.
B) Most students are more likely to speak their mind in front of the class instead of by themselves.
C) Effective personal conferencing with students often leave the rest of the class unattended and therefore hinders learning.
D) It may require a large time commitment from the instructor beyond the regular class instruction.
Brookhart, S.M. (2007/2008). Feedback that Fits, Educational Leadership 65 (4), 54-59.
Tomlinson, C. A. (1999). Personalized Learning, Educational Leadership 57 (1), 54-59.
Tomlinson, C. A. (2007/2008). Learning to love assessment, Educational Leadership 65 (4), 54-59.
1) = A) It is a conversation with a student to assess where they are and where they need to be. 2) = C) Conferences can be scheduled at any time and parents do not always need to be notified. 3) = B) The key here is one on one. Effective personal conferences do not always have to be formal. 4) = D) Even the most effective personal conferencing could consume a lot of the instructors time beyond the regular class time.