Lauren Heimlich Foley
With social distancing and hybrid learning, my students and I needed to find a way to hold individual writing conferences.
Gone are the days where I can plop myself down on a stool or rug next to a student. While my one-on-one writing conferences look and feel anything but normal, Microsoft Teams and Office 365 have helped.
Regardless if students are in class or at home, sharing documents and screens haven proven more effective than I ever imagined. If we are able to social distance, students and I will speak six feet apart in the classroom. If this is not possible, then we have our conversations over Teams the way I conference with my 100% virtual students. Teams and Office 365 make it possible for us to “sit” next to one another. In Teams, students and I can both share our screens, enabling us to look at the same documents and resources. I can send our conference notes and materials through the chat for later reference. We can also work together as they revise and edit their piece on their computer.
In past years, students and I would be able to work on the same computer and/or paper copy, both marking it up and making changes. Students could get feedback on new techniques, ask specific questions, trouble-shoot problems, and revise their writing as we conferred. I might demonstrate or model a skill right on a student’s document, record a bulleted list for them to complete once our conference ended, or act as their voice-to-text phone app, recording their words as they spoke to me. These instances were some of the most crucial in my workshop and the most crippled by social distancing. Without simultaneously seeing, accessing, and talking about the writing piece, the possible outcomes of the conferences were stunted.
I cannot remember the exact date that my students and I re-discovered Office 365 and Teams, but it must have been early January 2021. A student shared his writing piece with me at the end of class for feedback. As I began reading it, I wanted him to focus on paragraphing. Instead of making the changes and emailing him back, the next day in school we conferred. I pulled up his writing on my screen, asked him to pull up his copy on his screen, and we were able to speak six feet apart. (Since then, I have used the same strategy with students at home; we talk via Teams.) At first, I read, pausing to talk through why I would add paragraphs at certain points. After a few practice paragraphs, he began adding them on the same document. We both had the document open and were both editing it. Although we didn’t use the same computer, the technology enabled us to seamlessly move back and forth between modeling and application, student and teacher editing—writer and writer. It felt like we were sitting next to each other swapping one computer back and forth.
Every day offers new possibilities and new struggles. I learn along with my students what is and what is not working in our digital, hybrid writing-reading workshop. I am excited to see what we happen upon next. I would love to hear how you are conducting one-on-one conferences!