Early grade students gain confidence, communication skills through formal and informal conferences
- Both planned and impromptu personal conferencing sessions are being used more often in schools as a way to offer guidance to young students and specifically to help them develop their ability to communicate about their work.
- As part of an EdSurge series about personalized learning, a Mississippi kindergarten teacher recounts how she uses conferences to help students who she knows are stymied or off track during a lesson, but also how she holds scheduled sessions to address ongoing issues.
- In many cases, teachers give students help with specific skills by showing them simple data about their progress, but often the goal is also to help them learn to advocate for themselves and address non-academic issues such as self-confidence, motivation and independence.
Conferences are particularly popular for teaching writing skills, where experts say teachers shouldn’t try to correct every mistake but rather a representative few, and instead make a few “teaching points” and look for positives. They also should limit the length of the sessions and range of topics – and record details on a conferencing sheet that is stapled in the student’s notebook.
One research-based approach by Ball State University professor Lisa Hawkins has students verbally rehearse their writing then begin it with the teacher’s assistance. The conference can also be used to make revisions.
A recent report on student voice from the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), which focused on surveys of students from seven schools across the nation, showed that while children are often viewed as being too young to have an opinion about their work or desire to discuss it, the opposite is actually true. Responses showed that students like to express their ideas, get clarification on their work and, more than anything, admire their teachers and relish an opportunity to talk with them and get their feedback. Such interactions offer valuable opportunities to give young students new ideas and model adult communication, work habits and decision-making skills.
The report calls for student agency – “where students more often have an active role and take charge of what, where, when and why they learn.” A big part of that is student voice, which, in turn, is promoted through conferences, the NAESP report says.