The Art Of Conferencing

         When I was in first grade (back when I had a pet Pterodactyl as my children fondly remind me), I had an amazing teacher, Mrs. Butler. She would read us stories, sing Pete Seeger songs to us while playing on the guitar and taught us every subject.

         In the mornings, we would go to our desks and find completed work that she graded. One day, I saw the words, “Please see me.” As I was 6 years old, I interpreted that to mean I should see myself (Please see me… ok, me, here I am. What now?). I looked over the work, saw there some corrections to be made (Mrs. Butler drew googly eyes near errors), and placed the modified work in the “In” box (this was before the internet when in & box were two separate words).

         The next day, I came skipping into class. Lo and behold, the same piece of paper was there, this time with the words “Please see me” highlighted and bordered. Again, I interpreted as I had previously, made some more adjustments and submitted it.

         The same routine occurred for 4 days.

         That night, while eating supper, my father informed me that he received a call from my teacher wanting to know why I was refusing to meet with her. I told him she never asked. My dad clarified that she wrote the message “Please see me” on the work I kept submitting, implying she wanted to conference with me.

         A light bulb went off (incandescent, as there were no LEDs yet).


                                       CONFERENCING - AN IMMERSIVE APPROACH TO LEARNING

         Providing feedback to students through one on one meetings  is an effective teaching practice, with research dating back to the 1970s. It is a process for a mutual discussion of goals, concerns, and feedback to take place.

        While it is perceived to be time consuming by educators, it is in fact more impactful and helpful in students’ growth; providing direct communication between teacher and student allows each to identify areas of strengths and growth. Specifically, "by talking directly and individually with students about their writing, you can have a profound         influence on how they interpret your assignments and your  comments on their work, on how they approach a draft or a revision, on how motivated they are to write; and you’ll understand your students as writers and thinkers far better than you ever can from only seeing their written work. Remember that talking–about ideas, about drafts, about revisions–is an essential part of writing, and that conferences provide ideal opportunities for that talk." (Hughes,B. “Conducting Student-Teacher Conferences.” First Paragraph. University of Wisconsin-Madison).

Conferencing on students’ work requires three steps:

         (1) the teacher reading the content and writing commenting

         (2) the students’ preparation for the conference by answering reflective questions and bringing the responses with them to the meeting and

        (3) specific face time to meet.

                                                                   STREAMLINING THE PROCESS

         With technology’s prevalence in learning - be it in classrooms or virtual - how can technology help with conferencing? Kaizena can merge the three step process into two. As written previously, Kaizena allows teachers to individualize feedback on students’ works. They can leave voice or text comments (and soon video). In addition, students can respond to the teacher’s feedback. (And, unlike Mrs. Bulter’s confusing “Please see me”, comments are auto-attributed to their creators.)

         With conferencing, the teacher can include reflective questions within the comments and students can reply to them. The reflection process can begin before the actual meeting takes place. Furthermore, hearing the teacher’s voice can enhance the students’ understanding because it is capturing the teacher’s tone, inflection, and prosody - qualities that are missed with just text comments. Those qualities capture the teacher’s authenticity and transparency of caring for and wanting to help the student. Using Kaizena in this way, provides a more efficient method of conferencing, thus allowing more time for in-depth conversation and goal setting.

                                                                       GET READY TO GO GOOGLY

        Conferencing in real time is one thing. With the growth of online learning, how will conferencing take place in an online class? And, is asynchronous conferencing as effective in providing feedback?

        With more students learning online and with a global community of learners, real-time conferencing is challenging due to time zones and distance. Therefore, asynchronous learning must include the key components of synchronous conferencing. Hewitt argues that asynchronous conferencing requires technology that “facilitate[s] idea linking and connectivity” and that the process should be clearly visible to “better monitor communal knowledge-building activity” and individual contribution. Kaizena’s feedback tools are a clear example of what Hewitt describes. First, with built in audio feedback as an option, students and teachers can conference and link ideas and streams of thoughts. In addition, Kaizena both captures all the feedback and delineates who contributes what - ergo, the communal and individual contributions.

                                            SEE YOU. SEE ME. SAY IT TOGETHER - CONFERENCING

         Ok, not sure if Lionel Richie would sing that version, but you get the point. The art of conferencing is both streamlined and enhanced with Kaizena. Providing authentic feedback and promoting the reflective process - be it synchronous or asynchronous - are best practices for students to learn and grow. Come see us - I mean, come see what Kaizena can do you and your students.

Ariel Margolis
Ariel has designed innovative instructional and e-learning curricula for more than twenty years. He is Director of Student Support Services and Adjunct Lecturer in special education at Hebrew College.
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