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Best Practices for Student Centered Conferences

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There is no single template for designing a productive one-to-one conference experience with your students.  Like all teaching moments, the conference session design should be determined by your learning objectives for the session in relation to the student’s needs and the assignment schedule and requirements.  If you consider the conference to be a teaching opportunity, you’ll find that you can customize it in a way that best addresses all these different variables.

As with Hume tutoring sessions, there are many ways you might structure your student meetings.  A conference shouldn’t be 30 minutes of you talking to a student; just as you divide your class meetings into different segments, you could also incorporate one or more different types of engagements into your 30-minute conference. (You might find it helpful to look at the Hume Tutor Handbook for consultation advice that could be directly applicable to your PWR conferencing.)

Conference Strategies

Here are some strategies you might incorporate into your conference design:

Let the student’s goals inform the conference design

Use a few minutes at the beginning of each conference to allow the student to take on some agency for the shape of the meeting, inviting them to set goals for your time together.  You might even consider having them fill out a goals sheet ahead of time (see some sample goal-setting sheets [coming soon]).  During your conversation, balance attention to what the student prioritized with your own sense of objectives for the conference.

Prioritize conversation over instruction

As with Hume tutoring appointment, during the one-to-one PWR conference, the student should be talking as much, if not more, than the instructor.  Try to make sure the meeting is dialogic, even if the student just wants to be told what to do. Avoid simply giving a step-by-step review of your comments on the draft. Instead, invite the student to reflect or to contribute to the learning moment by asking questions.  For instance, some questions you might ask include:

  • Where do you articulate your claim?  Do you feel your claim stays consistent throughout your draft? 
  • What area of the draft are you most proud of? Why?
  • Which portion was the most easy to write? Why?
  • Which was the most challenging part to write? Why?
  • What particular rhetorical strategies did you try to use in this draft?  Where did you use them?
  • What feedback have you received from peers?  How does that align with your own assessment of your revision goals?
  • What did you learn from previous writing assignments or projects that you tried to incorporate or build on in this draft?

Brainstorm together

Although the conferences need to be associated with a particular assignment in the sequence, they do not need to always be anchored to a draft.  In some conferencing situations, you might want to spend the time brainstorm an essay topic or research topic together, with the goal being that the student leave with a clearer sense of viable topics, how to narrow them, and questions they might be asking about them.

Build time for writing into the conference

The conference is an ideal time for the student to do some writing, especially if that student is suffering from writer’s block or has struggled to produce complete drafts. This doesn’t have to take up the entire conference time, though it could take up a large portion of it if you feel that would be helpful. You could use a whiteboard for collaborative writing or have the student write on paper or on a laptop and then share (as appropriate). The key is to assess what would be most helpful for the student and then design a writing opportunity to support that.  Some ideas for writing during conference time include:

  • Ask the student to revise a thesis claim and receive feedback (for a student who needs to develop a stronger claim)
  • Ask the student to reverse outline their draft or to diagram an effective argument structure (for a student with concerns about structure)
  • After discussing style and rhetorical strategies, ask the student to spend 10 minutes revising a paragraph for style, and then discuss the revision (for the student with concerns about voice and style)
  • Ask the student to revise source usage in a particular paragraph, after reviewing citation practices and the use of signal phrases (for the student with concerns about ethical source integration)
  • Ask the student to write a portion of the draft for 15 minutes, then discuss what they produced together (for the student with writer’s block or an incomplete draft)

Incorporate reflection

As we know, metacognition is an important part of the learning process for students.  Consider starting or concluding the conference by inviting students to do a 5-minute reflective free-write.

Research together

If the student is struggling with finding sources or you have concerns about the type or amount of sources the student is using in the draft, use at least part of the time to review search methodology, find sources, and discuss how the student might use these newly found sources in the project more broadly or in different types of the draft more specifically.  You might even develop a working bibliography together that the student could build on after the conference.

Read together

Some students struggle with reading strategies for academic articles.  Devote some time during conference to looking at a particularly challenging piece together that relates to the student’s project, helping identify productive ways to engage with the article’s content and style, to identify argument, assess validity, and start taking effective notes that the student can refer to later in the research or drafting process.

Create a revision plan together

Consider spending the last 10 minutes of the conference developing a revision plan together.  One format might be to have the student and the instructor, independently, spend 5 minutes toward the end writing down a revision plan (top 3-4 goals for revision).  Then, in the final 5 minutes, they can share the plan they draft with each other, so that by the end of the conference, they arrive at a sense of consensus about on next steps for the project.