Conferring with Students Proves Difficult to Implement, Even for the Most Determined

My professional goal this year centered on conferring with students about their reading and writing on a more regular basis and keeping track of those conversations in order to track progress, pose questions, and offer valuable feedback. Based on a tip offered by Kelly Gallagher at the NTCTELA conference (2017), I created a notebook with a 2-page spread for each student in order to record notes from these conversations.

RWNotebookOn the left-hand side, I pasted in a notebook card that students filled out on the first day of class with information about their favorite genre(s) of books, their favorite book, their least favorite book, one writing strength, and an aspect of their writing which they wanted to improve. Below this card, I kept a record of reading conferences with the student. Here, I not only kept a list of what books students read, but I also jotted down notes during our conversations about the text.

The best method I have found for finding out how much my students actually read, understand, or like specific texts is to talk to them about their reading and ask thought-provoking follow-up questions. By recording notes about these conversations, I am better able to tailor instruction for all students – based on common observations or questions – and recommend books for future reading that I think they’ll enjoy and that will match the level of rigor they require.

On the right-hand side of the notebook, I recorded essay scores as well as some feedback about what students need to work on in their writing such as: use of passive voice, crafting a strong thesis statement, and providing evidence to support assertions. This allows me to track student progress toward improvement of writing skills. For instance, I love it when I can record additional comments such as “she successfully wrote in the literary present tense this time” or “his poetry shows insight and creativity.”

Conference and feedback notes also allow me to see when a student fails to make progress. How many times do teachers write the same feedback on successive essays, and where is the student’s incentive to change that practice unless they are one of the rare few who are intrinsically motivated? When we speak one-on-one with students and note the recurrence of these habits, they are more likely to address them.

So – I had a plan. I implemented that plan. But things did not exactly go according to plan.

I encountered several difficulties that prevented me – and more importantly, my students – from reaping all the benefits that our discussions and resulting data collection could offer. Below, I have listed some of the problems I encountered, their causes, and the potential solutions I plan to try this semester:


Though these difficulties left me feeling extremely frustrated at times, I do still deeply believe in conferring with students. Our students need, desire, and deserve the individual attention and feedback that reading and writing conversations provide.

Please comment with suggestions about how you have successfully conferred with students and tracked important ideas from that discourse. Let’s help each other find new ways to build relationships with as students as they build confidence in their writing and a real love of reading that extends beyond our classrooms.


Amber Counts teaches AP English Literature & Composition and Academic Decathlon at Lewisville High School. She believes in the power of choice and promotes thinking at every opportunity. She is married to her high school sweetheart and knows love is what makes the world go around. Someday she will write her story. Follow Amber @mrscounts.


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9 thoughts on “Conferring with Students Proves Difficult to Implement, Even for the Most Determined

  1. Melody October 13, 2020 at 10:31 am Reply

    The teacher isn’t the only one tracking – sometimes just allowing the student the chance to say where s/he is at is the most important aspect of conferencing. Good job for making that happen, and for sharing how it is going for you. We’re with you!


  2. andreacoachman February 6, 2018 at 10:20 am Reply

    I love reading these posts, because it’s like we’re all in the trenches together! Like Kelly mentioned above, I’ve heard this same conversation with teachers I support!

    Have you thought about voice recording your student conferences so you could go back and transcribe? Maybe too much added time to your day, or too difficult to figure out the logistics, but just something that popped into my head. 🙂

    Thank you for sharing, Amber!!


    • countsa February 21, 2018 at 5:32 pm Reply

      I just started having students record a short video in Flipgrid for book talks, etc., so I can respond to them there when I can’t get to everyone in person. We’ll see how it goes 🙂


  3. Marc Achtziger February 6, 2018 at 7:52 am Reply

    I ran into similar problems with my AP Lang classes. I honestly abandoned the notes and I know use Goodreads to help me monitor progress- for me it has been transformative. If anyone is interested I would be happy to share the details. Primarily, it cuts the time down, allows for me to see progress before kids sit with me, and allows for kids to actually see their progress and accountability in a class group forum


    • Michelle February 6, 2018 at 8:09 am Reply

      I am interested in how you monitor progress.


    • Tia Clasen February 6, 2018 at 8:51 am Reply

      I am also interested in your methods for utilizing this. Thanks! I’m working on helping my high school teachers understand the benefits of conferring. I need help.


    • Kim Baxley February 8, 2018 at 5:16 pm Reply

      Marc, please tell us more about using Goodreads. Thanks!


    • Tiffany Walters March 21, 2018 at 9:25 pm Reply

      Marc, I just launched the Goodreads platform with my sophomores and we are all already loving it! I would love to hear more about how you are using it. 🙂


  4. Kelly Oliver February 6, 2018 at 7:38 am Reply

    Conferring is hard. (I’m forwarding this to a colleague after a similar conversation yesterday so we can share in the validation! Perfect timing.) Thank you for this honesty.

    We have found that by offering learning continuums/proficiency scales for skills based assessment, students analyze their learning before and during a conference, the conversations have direction we didn’t have before. We are also finding that students use the scales as a teaching tool between conversations. I can imagine the impact creating the scales together might offer. Our scales are teacher created and TEKS based, though. Thanks for reminding us all that we’re in this together.


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