By Nicole Coppola
Online writing conferences are providing meaningful and important learning experience for my students and me as we write fantasy stories. Students who normally do not participate in my online classes are joining my small-group conferences. One of the biggest challenges for me was how to initiate and manage the online conferences. When do I set up the conferences? How? How long are the conferences? What is covered during the conferences? Do I track attendance and how? What about feedback?
In addition to virtual classroom lessons, I am scheduling small group or individual conferences on Zoom.com for 15 minutes, two to three hours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Once the schedule was established, I looked at several different websites and programs to allow students to sign up. It seemed too cumbersome to have students create another log-on and password, so I explored all the Office 365 platforms. With the support of a district tech coach, I set up a sign-up sheet on FORMS with specific time slots and posted the sign-up link on my CANVAS homepage. See the message in Canvas below.
“Please plan to attend a writing conference once every two weeks.
Next week – please sign up for a writing conference for the week of 5/11/20 using the Forms link.”
I did not set a limit for the number of students in each conference slot. That is working out because, inevitably, some students do not show up. Students are requested to show up to a conference once every two weeks, but they are welcome to sign up for multiple conferences, as many as they would like. Both the parents and students seem to appreciate this flexibility and access.
As on online assessment the week before the conferences, the students had to brainstorm about their stories. During the conferences (which usually have 2-5 students), I screen shared the assignment, so all students had a moment to read about the other student’s story. After giving a specific compliment, I asked the student a question to get them talking. The other participants were encouraged to ask questions or give a compliment. This worked really well because the “research” part of the conference was already written. This saved time and enhanced engagement because everyone was looking at a copy of the story together. Students were encouraged to take conference notes about their stories. For students with special needs, I typed them an e-mail reviewing the conference as it happened. This way, both student and teacher have the same notes about the conference for future reference.
Going forward, I am planning specific assignments with the intention that I can access the assignment and share it during the conference. Small group conferences have been the most rewarding part of my online teaching.
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