Just the other day I had a conversation with a colleague that in a typical classroom, there is generally a four-year span in terms of ability levels between the lowest and highest performing students. Of course, everyone else is sprinkled somewhere between those two outliers. Are most of them clustered in the middle? Likely. Are they all? We couldn't be that lucky!
So, how do teachers meet the needs of those students who are at the opposite ends of the spectrum and/or who are not performing at that middle, grade-level area? Differentiating instruction and activities is certainly one way to address that huge gap.
However, before a teacher can differentiate instruction, she must first truly understand her students as learners in order to best meet their needs. Holding individual conferences is one way a teacher can gain this understanding. Having that one-on-one time to meet with students is invaluable. This is an opportunity to do informal assessments, give individualized instruction, and have conversations with students about their learning!
Like many things in education, individual conferences can look 100 different ways, depending upon how the teacher is choosing to use them. For example,
- Reading conference: Teachers may...
- have students read their independent reading book, followed by discussions around specific components of the book
- have students read their independent reading book, followed by discussions around an area of need
- complete a running record
- Writing conference: Teachers may...
- revise and edit a piece of writing with the student
- analyze student's writing to determine area of need, followed by instruction/discussion with student (basically an individual mini-lesson)
- analyze student's writing and discuss writing ideas
- analyze spelling in writing and discuss specific components of word work
- Math conference: Teacher's may...
- analyze a piece of student work, giving individualized instruction based on student need
- analyze a piece of student work, questioning students to better understand their mathematical thinking
- informally assess a specific skill/concept
- Individualized mini-lesson on area of need
A teacher can hold an individual conference for just about anything that she sees a need for. The purpose of the conferences may change depending upon the need of the students. Even when I have writing conferences, they may change from what I plan based on something I discover through looking at a student's writing piece and/or having a discussion with the student. Our professional judgment is often a guide in terms of what happens at that conference.
Many teachers have specific forms they may use when holding individual conferences with their students. Others, including me, typically take anecdotal notes during the conferences. There is no right or wrong way...it's what the teacher finds most useful to record her students' learning and understanding!