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By: Adrienne Lanier
Recently, I had to take my son to the pediatrician for what I only knew as a stubborn, uncooperative ringworm. I had been treating the infection with what I knew best. Well, actually I started with my grandmother's "tried and true" home remedy of bleach! Once I realized it wasn't working, I stepped back into the 21st century and tried a topical cream. Every day the same routine, cream in the morning before school then cream and a bandage at night before bed. I had been going through this process for over 3 weeks with no success so I decided to go to the doctor.
I was confident, I would surely find the answer to my concern. When the doctor began his examination, I knew I needed to prepare myself for the dreaded question, "What have you tried?" I teetered for a bit wondering if I should truly share my experimentation with Grandma's old school solution. My response, "Ah, hydrocortisone cream " He paused for a moment and I knew I was in for it. You see, I knew deep down my strategy with the bleach was clearly an 'old wives tale', but I was sure I should have had the upper hand with the topical cream.
Just as I worked very hard to rid my son of the ringworm with what I thought would attack the problem, as teachers we often work tirelessly to correct errors in our student's thought processes or procedures. One reliable best practice I often used in my classroom was teacher-student conferences. These conferences allowed me an opportunity to work with each of my students to specifically target their strengths and weaknesses. This time spent talking to students in either a small group or individually gave me a chance to actually see where they were struggling. I was able to readily distinguish my students who didn't understand the structure of a text, how to think about the text while reading to understand or even their individual struggles with word attack strategies.
With so many initiatives for teachers to 'fit in a school day, teacher-student conferences were definitely not something I was completely open to initially. However, with a little research and practice, I began to see the light at the end of the foggy tunnel. A few tips helped me, and more importantly, my students, create a positive momentum towards an exceptional achievement.
1. Be sure to have a specific purpose for your conference. Whether you need to set goals with your students or to teach the student a particular skill, setting a purpose is essential. This gives the teacher an opportunity to chunk learning and students are able to meet attainable and personal goals.
2. Use the press-release strategy versus diving right into the process. We must model effective conversations. If we jump in head first, our students will depend on us to give them the answers without being an active participant, and we are doomed before we start. Instead, create a conversational structure and model it for your students. This may take more than a few attempts but, before you know it, you will be able to release responsibility to them during conferences.
3. Flexibility is key! There are times when conferences call for you to meet with students individually while other times allow for group conferences. If you have several students struggling with writing using various sentence beginnings, meet with the group at once. Although the students are in the same group, they may be able to see how their classmates are using their sentence beginnings and assist one another with recognizing and over-coming this learning curve. If students are needing more individual attention, then set aside time to meet with students one-on-one. Allow flexibility as the time to do which type of conference will be revealed through student needs and data analysis.
4. Keep it short and safe. Remember, this is a time to support the student's learning. We should keep it short as we do not want to overwhelm students with too many tasks at one time, especially on a skill they are showing weaknesses. Ensure the conference environment is safe. Students thrive when they are allowed to take risks. If a student does not feel as though they can make mistakes, they will generally shut-down and give up or get discouraged. School is known as the places for flags without the penalties. This is the one place students are given an opportunity for a do-over or multiple do-overs, if needed.
Student-teacher conferences provide a unique experience for teachers to meet with students to ensure they are employing the best strategies to achieve their maximum potential. I used to love the cliche "practice makes perfect", until I realized my students were practicing but, they were practicing incorrectly, which leads to even more confusion and frustration for both the student and the teacher.
This brings me back to that day in the doctors office reflecting on my "practice" of treating my sons ringworm. I was using what I thought I knew to be best but, my "parent-doctor" conference helped us both realize, I had the right consistency but, the wrong application. Now, my mantra is "Perfect Practice Makes Perfect!" What do you think about teacher student conferences?