Learning Conferences are 7-10 minute meetings with individual students intended to engage them in conversations about their learning. Learning Conferences take place during Work Time, before, after or between Group Work sessions. Conduct the Conference at a table, and always try to hold the conference in the context of a Work Time situation (that is, move to the child for the conference rather than having them come to you). The Learning Conference Rubric should be used to guide the implementation of the Learning Conference format.
Teachers use the Learning Conference Record to document their insights. The Record is divided into top and bottom halves, top for the teacher’s comments, and the bottom for the student’s. Each half is further divided into three areas titled: strengths, needs and goals.
The Learning Conference procedure is simple. The teacher begins a dialog with the student in one of two ways. A quick reference to notes from the previous conference will initiate a conversation about whether the student feels she or he has made strides towards meeting goals they previously set. Alternatively, the teacher can begin a conversation with the student about what she or he has been doing, leading into a focus on things that either the child did really well or that the child had difficulty doing. All conferences should establish concrete goals that the child will endeavor to achieve before the next conference. The goal should be written in the student’s own words and initialed by him or her.
Very young children will rarely have clear insight about their personal strengths and needs, and so the Conference will often include words to this effect, “Well, do you want me to tell you about a really smart thing that I saw you do?” The child will invariably say yes, and the conference proceeds. “Do you want me to tell you something that I noticed you doing that was getting in your way?” After the child consents, the teacher describes the behavior to be corrected and offers a tangible goal to remedy the problem.
Older children, who have become practiced in thinking reflectively about their own behaviors and whose intentions are clearer should be held accountable to anticipating Learning Conference meetings by thinking about their strengths, needs and goals. Once conference routines have been established, they should anticipate Conference conversations by having previously thought about strengths and challenges faced in their work.
A copy of the appropriate Learning Indicators should be available at the table during the conference. Some teachers keep a copy of the indicators in each students’ section in a Conference Binder so that notes can be taken and used as a future reference. During the Conference, make reference to the Indicators as a tool to clarify your own thinking about the student’s behaviors. If helpful, use the Indicators as a tool for the student to refer to in order to clarify understanding of their performance. Using the Indicators as a reference for conversation will help train thinking and behavior around formal curriculum objectives.
Learning Conferences provide a context for individualized progress monitoring. For example, teachers can take a quick running record of oral reading with children who experience delayed reading fluency, or do quick assessments of reading or math sub-skills.
Conference records should be carefully maintained. Records are kept alphabetically by child in a single binder. The general education teachers as well as support teachers who push into the classroom to provide supplemental instruction should have access to Conference Records and use them to record observations.
Equity. Learning Conferences are fundamental education opportunities that should be monitored for frequency and quality. Teachers should make certain to meet with each student on a regular basis. Adhering to the equity principle, conferences are conducted most frequently with the children who need the most support. In Math, Reading or Writing Blocks, teachers should meet twice as frequently with students who fall below the 50th percentile on the progress monitoring assessment.
Teachers and administrators are responsible for monitoring Conference Records to ensure that all students receive their equal share of instruction. These “opportunity checks” are part of an instructional accounting system and a mechanism that helps to close achievement gaps between high- and low-performing students.
Example Reading Conference
Example Writing Conference