Strengthen Relationships & Instruction with Conferring Notes

Conferring with students is one of the best instructional strategies a teacher can employ in their classroom. (To confer means to speak with students 1:1 during the independent practice portion of a lesson.)

The process is two-fold: get information, give information. It is a personalized opportunity to re-teach concepts students have previously learned while also gaining inside information into what the students struggles with and why.

Why Should You Be Conferring with Students?

First, conferring with students allows you the teacher to build authentic relationships with your students while also getting intel on their learning preferences, struggles and strengths. Second, the informal data collected helps you better design future lessons  or create skill-based small groups tailored to student needs. It is the most targeted approach to increasing student achievement in the classroom.

Each time you meet with a student, you are able to refer to this record sheet and pick up right where you left off. This on-going learning process is extremely meaningful because it is highly differentiated to student needs. It ensures no student goes unnoticed and teachers can catch errors quickly before bad habits develop for students.

Most importantly, documenting all conferring sessions provides a paper trail or running record. This is helpful when meeting with parents because you can share details of what a student struggled with and when it occurred as well as what can be done at home to help achieve any current learning goals. Also, having such thorough documentation is helpful for teachers when looking for learning patterns or progress of students. Designing instruction just got easier!

What Does Conferring with Students Look Like?

In order for conferring with students to provide the greatest amount of authentic data possible, teachers have to create systems and processes on a consistent basis in a consistent way. Luckily, that process can be used over and over in any subject area.

The process is simple:

  1. Create a Template
  2. Meet with Students
    • Check-in individually with a student for 5 minutes
    • Make a goal to meet with 1-2 students per lesson / 4-5 students per day / 20-25 students per week
  3. Keep Accurate Records
    • Update the template during and after each check-in
    • Use the template to plan future check-ins and small group instruction
    • Focus on specific skills vs. vague topics

What Does Conferring with Students Sound Like?

Consistency is key to ensure the sessions run efficiently and effectively. Teachers should tweak the original design of a conferring session until it is as productive and successful as possible.

A conferring check-in could look like this:

  • Greet student
  • Remind student of previous check- in session (skill addressed) and ask about its progress (struggles/successes)
  • Address skill misconceptions and provide direction if needed
  • Review work sample student is completing during that independent practice time
  • Address new skill needed (example from student work, rationale for improvement, draft corrected example)
  • Assign next steps
  • Provide encouraging words and salutations
  • Update conferring notes

Note- The skills re-taught during conferring can be related to the day’s lesson or a previous one. Do not introduce a new topic since it is a short conference meant to check-in on progress and address any minor roadblocks before the student continues independently working.  Examples of skills could be writing compelling topic sentences, understanding the meaning of keywords in math problems, or using context clues to figure out unknown words in a reading passage.

As a reminder, conferring with students is a powerful way to improve student achievement and your instructional proficiency. Try it out in one subject with one student per day. Then, slowly work your way up to conferring with every student every week in all subjects. The goal is to better target the learning needs of your students and provide the necessary support for their improvement. As long as you are attempting to better meet student needs each day, then you are doing your best for your kids. Give it a try and comment below with your progress!

How do you use conferring notes in your classroom?

About the author, Gretchen

I am a teacher trainer and coach. Working elbow to elbow with teachers and teacher leaders to ensure instructional proficiency and student achievement soar lights me up. We have a real need in our nation for strong educators to remain in the field. My blog, book, podcast, courses and instructional materials are geared towards empowering teachers (and those that lead them) to receive the support needed to grow and thrive today, tomorrow and always.