Grading Conferences

Language Arts Resources, Middle School Classroom

Ah, the sweet smell of spring, the sound of birds chirping, and the taste of state testing right around the corner. This year, I spent my week before state tests in a sort of unconventional way: conferencing with students.

Many educators can become stressed during this time, and in my opinion, all that does is stress out the kids. This can’t help them do better on the test. My one-on-one conferences were a breath of fresh air! It worked out perfectly for my class because they had just finished writing an essay on a short story, and then they moved on to another essay comparing two poems. While students worked independently at their desks on those, I conferenced at my front table with them one-by-one.

Here’s why I liked it:

1. It made me step away from my class and just let my students write. All too often, I see my students thinking about a question and immediately raising their hand to ask me. I told them openly last week that they needed to dig deep in their noggins for the answer because at this point, they know what they’re doing! We’ve been doing this all year. Don’t worry, though, I still offered some support. I set up my deli counter (hehe) by cutting out numbers and placing them into a bowl. As I was working independently to grade a student’s essay during our conference, other students could politely take a number from my deli if they truly felt that they couldn’t continue writing without my assistance. This kept the questions to a minimum but still allowed me to help those who were really struggling. Plus, the class loved me saying “Number 2 to the deli” in a silly voice with my hand making a microphone. Too fun. You can purchase my deli number “kit” on my TPT here:

2. I was able to give in-person feedback to students during our conference. Especially at the middle school level, kids look at their grade, say “okay!” and then recycle the paper on the way out the door, without seeing why they got the grade they got (let alone the hours of writing comments all along the margins of their papers.) This forced every single student that I teach to sit down with me and process through why they wrote what they did. Then, they were able to go back to their seats and make sure to perfect elements they were missing or continue doing the great things they were already doing in their next essays.

3. It saved me a lot of grading time. Sure, it took me 4 days in class to meet with each student individually, but I wasn’t dozing off at 9:30 at night, trying to multitask by listening to The Voice in the other room. I also didn’t have to write out many comments because the kids were hearing them right from my mouth! I really liked this aspect a lot. It felt like time put to good use.

4. It instilled confidence in my students before the big state test. While I did give honest feedback, I’m pleased to say that the vast majority of my students earned an A on their essay. It felt good for me to assess where they were again, and I know it felt so good for my students when I told them, “If you do this next week, you’re going to get a great score on the test.” In fact, for a handful of my students, I couldn’t even find anything for them to improve upon, as they had followed all that we learned this year to a T. Their face lit up when I told them that I thought this was the best potential work they could hand in and I had no corrections for them. (I was sensing a lot of them going home and telling their families that news, as I’m far from an easy grader!!) And, while I gave constructive feedback where I could, I think every student left my table thinking that they had improved a lot this year and that I was proud of them. My hope is that they remember that when they go to write on the state test, with confidence in their hearts 🙂

I loved grading conferences, and I’d love to hear how they go in your classroom if you try them out! Here’s the link again to my deli numbers if you think they would be useful in your classroom, whether you could use them when you try out conferencing or if you use them when working with small groups, etc. It’s a great way to teach students to be polite when you are working with other students and gives them a way to signal they need help without interrupting!

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