Make the most of your conferencing experience by being prepared before you meet with your instructor.
As an undergraduate student, you may be provided with the opportunity to have conferences with your instructor. Conferences are typically 15–20 minutes long and may be individual or small group conferences. In many cases, your instructor may cancel classes for student conferences. This is because the individualized attention you will receive in your conference is extremely valuable for your development as a writer, and the time spent in your conference will be as valuable as your time spent in class.
Conferences are a time for you, as a student, to ask your instructor specific, individualized questions about your project that you may not have the opportunity to ask in the classroom. The conference is the ideal space for you to talk about your text as a whole and to focus on your critical thinking and organizational skills. This is your opportunity to ensure that your writing is delivering the message you intended. The conference is also an opportunity for your teacher to talk with you about what is working well in your text and what areas you might reconsider as you re-envision your work. Your teacher might also note specific patterns in your composing style and can highlight areas to which you might give more attention, and she might even direct you to additional references for more information and practice.
You may be asked to participate in individual, one-on-one conferences with your instructor, as well as small group conferences with your instructor and several of your peers. Similarly to individual conferences, small group conferences are intended to provide you with an opportunity to receive personalized instruction. However, group conferences come with an added benefit—the benefit of multiple perspectives. While an individual conference provides you with the opportunity to engage in a dialogue about your composition with your instructor, small group conferences allow you to expand this dialogue by including your peers.
As beneficial as conferences can be for students, your instructors also understand that conferences can be intimidating and, at times, they can also be somewhat less successful than all had hoped for. An uneventful conference often occurs because students are not adequately prepared for the conference and are unsure of their role in the conference. While each instructor will have a different conferencing style, here are a few useful tips to help you prepare for a successful conference:
Before the conference, you should
- Reread the draft of the text that you will be discussing with your instructor. This seems like such a simple task, but by rereading your paper before your conference, the material will be fresh in your mind and you will be more comfortable discussing the content of your paper. Whenever you plan to discuss your writing with an instructor, always be sure that you can provide your instructor with a brief explanation of what you are writing about without consulting your paper.
While rereading your text, you should also think about the areas in your project with which you are struggling. Are you having trouble expressing your ideas clearly? Are you having a hard time organizing your thoughts into a coherent whole? Are you experiencing gaps in logic when explaining your ideas? Global issues like these are the types of problems that you should think about prior to the conference so that you are prepared to bring these concerns to your instructor’s attention. Be prepared to tell your instructor what is working well in your paper, what areas need further development and, most importantly, what it is you want to say.
- Relax. Your conference should not be an intimidating experience. Your instructor is not there to judge you. Instead, try to envision the conference as a space for you and your instructor to engage in a dialogue that is designed to aid you in the revision process. Expect to discuss the more challenging areas in your project with which you are struggling, and plan to work with your instructor to generate a revision plan that addresses these issues.
During the conference, you should
- Tell your instructor what you would like to discuss during the conference. By coming to the conference prepared to discuss the problem areas in your writing, you are saving yourself and your instructor valuable time. By pointing your instructor to the areas with which you are having difficulty, your instructor can avoid focusing on reviewing areas of your writing in which you are confident.
- Take notes. Write down any suggestions for revisions that your instructor provides during the conference. You may think that you will remember what you and your instructor discuss, but it's better to have the notes to refer to when you return to your text. By taking notes, you will not only ensure that you remember what you discussed in the conference but you will also show your instructor that you are invested in improving your writing. But most importantly, taking notes is another way for you to think about your plan for revision. Taking notes will help you to appreciate how important re-envisioning your work is in the writing process.
- Listen. You and your instructor will have a conversation about your composition during the conference. It is important that you listen to what your instructor has to say. You should not enter the conference situation prepared to defend your work—instead, by listening to your instructor and engaging in dialogue, the two of you will work together to improve your text. Not only are you there to listen to your instructor, but she is there to listen to your ideas and questions as well. Be sure to share your ideas with your instructor just as she shares her ideas with you. In order to get the most out of your conference, make sure that you understand everything that your instructor is telling you. And if you don’t . . .
- Ask! There is no excuse to not ask questions in a conference. These conferences are designed to be student-centered: your instructor really wants to give you valuable advice that will help you improve your composition. But the advice is pointless if the type of revision your instructor is recommending or why she is recommending this change is unclear to you. If your instructor tells you something that you do not fully understand, be sure to ask her for clarification. Asking questions can also help you develop clarity and logic within your project. Knowing what your instructor hears when she reads your text will help you to ensure that you are delivering the message that you want to deliver.
- Deal with small details at the end. The purpose of the conference is to improve not only your paper, but your overall writing, as well. It is important to focus on global issues during the conference, such as thesis development, critical thinking, and organization. If you are concerned about sentence-level errors, don’t discuss these concerns until you have already discussed the global issues. While mechanical issues such as grammar are important, surface-level areas such as these should be reviewed as a part of your editing process. Conferences, however, are intended to aid you in the revision process, so surface-level issues may not emerge as primary concerns during your conference.
After the conference, you should do the following:
- Review your notes. Following the conference, it is always a good idea to look back at your notes and make sure you understand them. Take a few minutes to think back on what you discussed with your instructor to be sure that you get the most out of your conferencing experience. Perhaps you might construct a more solid revision plan. Such a plan will help you to synthesize the points discussed in your conference so that when you begin your revision process, you can refer once again to this plan.
Keep in mind that your student-teacher conferences will focus on several—but not necessarily all—areas in your writing that might benefit from revisions. Your teacher will likely share a few areas that are working well in your draft and note why these areas are successful. Ultimately, a successful student-teacher conference will allow your revision process to become more manageable.