The Power of Student Conferencing

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 here and pay what you want (from free to whatever you feel like paying).

The concept is simple. I plan out three to four mini-conferences per class period each day. This generally allows me to meet with each student individually once every two weeks. To be honest, it’s been harder for me to do conferences this year because I have been distracted. I’m going to start back on conferences today.

Back when I taught self-contained (all subjects to one group) I met with each student once a week. I knew I could spare 30 minutes a day spread out in order to see every student one-on-one each week. I found the following things to be true:

  1. I get the chance to know the students on a more personal level. This allows for a better approach to differentiated instruction.
  2. 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. Before doing one-on-one conferencing, I was accidentally ignoring some of the quiet kids who were doing just fine in class. This helps guarantee that I meet with each student.
  3. Students are empowered to ask questions about their work and to reflect upon both the product and the process. My students tend to know how they are doing in my class because of the weekly conferences.
  4. This saves time for me. Every conference is essentially a chance for ongoing formative assessment. As a result, I spend less time grading (especially leaving feedback on student work).
  5. It allows me to thrive as an introverted teacher. I need this time one-on-one with students because the large crowd can feel exhausting.


How to Approach It

Here are some of the practical / logistical things I have found with this:

  • 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. I find that the warm-up and project times work best for this.
  • Find the right location. I have a spot in front of the board where I have a standing center. I look out at the class and stand directly next to the student in the conference. We share a laptop computer screen as we discuss the questions.
  • Give students specific days when they know they will have a conference. This allows students to feel prepared ahead of time.


The Three Types of Conferences

The following are the three 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 meta-cognition 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.
  • Assessment 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 (attached to the resource you can download) as a way to figure out the level of mastery on particular standards.


Feedback Conference
Reflection Conference
Assessment Conference
The Focus
Targeted help / instruction in specific areas of reading
Guiding students toward self-reflection
A conversation about the mastery of standards
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
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
Asks questions about progress and share information based upon evidence of student work.
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
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


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2 thoughts on “The Power of Student Conferencing

  1. I do a lot of these things instinctively and out of necessity, but it is really helpful to have a breakdown like this to reflect on and hone the skills with. Thanks.

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