When you prioritize one-on-one conferences, you give both you and your students a chance to check in, connect, and make a plan to implement new strategies. This is one of the many ways we can start combating loneliness in middle school.
There is power in a 1:1 conversation with students.
How many times in this last school year have you sat down with individual students and talked to them?
Maybe you asked them how things were going or talked about their recent scores on a test. Maybe you were discussing the most recent book they read.
It is absolutely crazy to me that for as much time as we spend around our students over the course of the year, we have so few one-on-one conversations with them.
Since connecting with students and setting goals with them is something I value, I look for opportunities to talk with them in small groups or one-on-one situations when I can.
I truly believe that when you prioritize one-on-one conferences with middle school students, these conferences are something that can realistically happen quarterly.
Sound crazy? Maybe it is, but if it’s important to us, we may try, right?!?
Making a Plan
If we are going to prioritize one-on-one conferences, then we need to sit down and do some math.
First, how many students do you need to meet with? This may be different in each class, and therefore it will take a different amount of time for each class.
Next, when you start to prioritize one-on-one conferences with students, you have to account for what the rest of the class is doing during that time.
- Is this reading time for them?
- Are they working on a bigger project?
- Are they working in groups?
What do you think will work best in your classes?
As you think through this process, are you thinking that you will meet with one student each day, or will you meet with several students in one day?
You may think you can get through all of the students in a class over the course of one week.
If you are going to prioritize one-on-one conferences with students, then you want to make sure that you aren’t rushing conversations and that you’re using your time well; that means that the fewer transitions you have, the better, and the more comfortable your students are with the process and expectations, the more efficient you’ll get.
When I started thinking through this, I considered making Monday or Friday my one-on-one conference day, so I started thinking about how many students I could meet realistically within one day.
If I give each student about 7-8 minutes with me, then I can fit five students into a single class period and still have time to provide instruction to the group as a whole at the beginning of the day and check in with them at the end of the day.
Let’s do some math to see if that would work.
Let’s say you meet with six classes of 30 students daily. That is 180 students.
Each school quarter is approximately 45 days long. If you plan to meet with five students each week (or every five days) in each class, you could make these quarterly reading conferences a reality.
If your classes are 40-45 minutes long, and you give each student 7 minutes (to allow time to get the rest of the students started on a project or reading), you could do all of these individual meetings one day per week, and you would meet with each of your students every six weeks.
Maybe it is, but you don’t know until you try.
Wasted Time vs. Purposeful Planning
If you find yourself thinking that you can’t waste one day every week on these conferences, then I would challenge you to change the way you are framing the experience.
I look at these conferences as a way to connect with my students. I get a chance to get to know them better, talk about the books they’ve been reading, and discuss their challenges with classroom content.
They get my undivided attention for a full 7 minutes without disruption; for some students, that is more time than they are getting with their parents.
We naturally prioritize our classroom tasks and give more time to things that feel more important. Still, I think spending one-on-one time with students is important to their well-being and comfort with me and the classroom content.
We have heard that loneliness since the pandemic is real, and it doesn’t take long to find a study or report confirming that loneliness among students is a major issue. This further emphasizes why we need to prioritize one-on-one conferences, and putting some focus on individual students is more important now than ever.
What about the instructional time I’m losing?
A major concern I hear from teachers who don’t want to prioritize one-on-one conferences with students is that they simply don’t have the time to cover everything in the curriculum AND meet with students this frequently.
To that, I recommend reviewing your curricular topics and streamlining your units.
Over in the store, we have units designated to specific standards. These units include group and individual projects and activities but are hyper-focused on covering the different middle school reading standards.
If you have less time for instruction, ensure the time you use for instruction is focused on the skills and standards students are expected to master while in your class.
What about the other kids?
When you have less than 10 minutes to meet with students, you want to hit on two main objectives. Give them time to share about their lives, and spend some time discussing a topic in your class that they are struggling with.
These conferences will move quickly, so setting good boundaries and expectations for other students in the classroom is imperative.
For example, Johnny cannot come up to you while you’re working with a student individually to have you check his work, and Margo can’t come to ask you questions about the essay she’s working on.
So first things first, pick a project or activity that the other students will NOT need your help to complete.
Maybe they are working through a self-checking challenge like one of these digital escape rooms, or you could designate conference days as free reading days. You could plan all the reading conferences for a week when your students will be working through a group project.
In addition to keeping students working independently, have clear rules and boundaries. Set these rules early in the year and stick to them.
Here are a few examples:
- When the Do Not Disturb sign is standing on my desk, you can’t approach me with questions.
- Voice levels need to stay at a 2. That means that students speak at normal talking levels, but they are not shouting or yelling or speaking outside their immediate group of peers.
- No bathroom breaks during conference time. When the teacher is meeting with a student, other students will need to wait until you are between students to ask to leave the room for any reason.
- During conference time, the classroom door will remain closed and locked to prevent extra people from entering the room.
These are just some examples of rules you can set, and obviously, you’ll adjust based on school policy, but you are ultimately trying to hold this conference time in high regard. When you place this level of importance on this one-on-one time, students will also place importance on the conference.
The best tip I can give you…do the conferences often enough that students understand the value of the time spent on them. Consistency will also help other students know what to expect and how to act and behave during that time.
One consistent check-in you can do with students during these conferences is on their reading levels. In this blog post, I talk more about how I meet with students in groups to do reading check-ins, but the same patterns and strategies can also apply to individual meetings.
One of the tools I use during reading conferences is my reading growth charts and conference packets. You can grab my Reading Growth Conference Packet here. Keeping this piece of each conference consistent will help you organize the conversations.
You can click on the images below to take a closer look at some of our other reading checklists and strategy resources to use during your one-on-one conference time.
I really hope you prioritize one-on-one conferences with your students this year and find ways to connect with your students. Sometimes school can feel really messy, but by having a chance to really talk with your students and learn what they are up to and what they care about, you will find more ways to help them and connect your planning to their interests!
It is truly a win-win for everyone!