Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Blah! Group Blah!

So I am still sad that I don't get to take a trip to visit my friend for fall break. Like some of my readers, I never had fall break at the UC either (quarter system), but since my students are talking about taking the whole week instead of a day, I am grumpy. (If the comp kids want to take one of their absences, that's their problem and their grade. I hope, though, the lit class students keep aware that we are doing the midterm in class before break. It's not like I haven't been reviewing and reminding them for a week.)

I'm also coming up on when I scheduled student conferences. I have to have at least one set of student conferences according to the department. But I looked at the schedule, and overheard one of the adjuncts doing conferences in the break room, and then did the math of 20 minutes times 75 students ----- and ahhhhh! Oh hell no I am not doing this; I am not paid enough for that level of torment!

Therefore I've switched to group conferences (I usually do groups of 3 but I may up it to groups of 4, looking at those numbers), and I'm thinking about how short a time I can work it and still have something of use coming out of these conferences for the students. Plus I have my lit class in the middle of the day, so I'm going to have to jump back and forth between conferences and lecturing ---- and I can't do the conferences in my office since it's shared, so do I take over the break room, or commandeer a table in the library/writing center lobby? ---- and I am going to be jumpy and discombobulated and annoyed all day. Days. And I'm wondering what is my goal for these conferences even, what sort of outcome am I going to be going for?

Ok, I'm tired and mainly just thinking out loud here.

I may do a whole separate post about listening to the adjunct in the break room, who seemed nice enough, but I listened to hir do 2 or 3 individual conferences while I ate lunch, and zie seemed to have absolutely no purpose to them --- just a random chat. (Not to mention zie started telling one student all about annotated bibliographies before stopping hirzelf, realizing that was for the wrong class.) Why eat up an entire week of time doing individual conferences if all you're doing is making friendly with the student ---- if you're not even asking pointed questions about the paper or the student's writing process?

And in my MA program I had to do peer reviews and either individual or group student conferences for each paper. Bleah. Like peer reviews, I wasn't too sure about whether conferences actually worked. When students have a question or actively want to change their paper/contest their grade, they come see me --- after class, in office hours, by email --- and for the other students, it mostly consisted of me telling them the same thing I wrote on their drafts and announced in class. They either didn't take it seriously or didn't know how to translate what I said into what they have to do. Did they get much out of the conferences? Enough to outweigh the annoyance and time-suck factor for me?

I don't know. But I haven't done conferences since, until now, since I didn't think they were worth the effort --- and I'm only going to do the absolute required minimum.

What do you try to have students get out of conferences? What particular aspect of the drafts do you work on, or outcome do you expect? And what are students supposed to get out of conferences --- group or individual --- that they can't get out of class time, homework, or in-class peer review?


reassignedtime said...

I do mandatory, individual conferences in writing classes to RETURN their first two papers with their grades. (Note, I do not do DRAFT conferences - I do returning conferences. Yes, they have the opportunity to revise those papers, but the point is that we're not wasting their time and mine talking about a crappy draft that they slapped together just so they wouldn't get docked points for not having a draft at the conference.)

Each student gets 10 minutes for the conference, and we go over the paper and the main areas that worked and didn't work in it. Basically, I'm giving them my comments verbally. So, while it's true that I'm spending 10 minutes per student, I'm spending WAY less time on grading (probably spending just 5-10 minutes per paper, as opposed to 30+ minutes)because I don't write extensive comments on the papers. Instead, the students are expected to take notes DURING the conference on my verbal assessment. I find that the students engage a lot more with my feedback in person than they do with written comments, and I find that they are much more likely to come to my office for help or just to check in if they've had these mandatory conferences - as opposed to only showing up in my office when they want to complain about something. Also, this is a way for me to check in with passive/quiet students and to encourage them to participate in class more.

Ultimately, I think conferences are a really positive thing - they help me to get to know my students and to figure out how to get the best work out of them, and they help students to understand that I'm actually paying attention to them and to the work that they submit.

It's also worth noting that I do not generally read and offer extensive feedback on drafts - though I will offer in-person conferences on drafts at student request - so for me conferences are not repeating anything I've done before. They actually are a serious and meaningful moment for the students that replicates nothing else in the course.

reassignedtime said...

(And I understand you feeling overwhelmed about the number of conferences you'd have to hold, but I'm going to suggest that group conferences - which I have done in certain cases - never accomplish as much as individual ones for me. I'd rather meet with students for five minutes individually than meet with a group of 4 for 20 minutes, if that makes sense. But that may just be me.)

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

Ditto on what reassignedtime said. That's a brilliant way to handle conferences, actually. Group conferences? I don't think that would work at all. The reason why I've done conferences in the past is to get to know students a bit, explain my grading, as reassigned mentioned, and to help with retention. That's what the school cares about more than anything else. All the students could get Cs in every class, but as long as they are staying in school and paying the money, well, they're a-okay. Right? Retain! Retain! Retain the students! And how does one do that? Make it all warm-and-fuzzy and squishy.

Personally, I love conferencing because I get to cancel a ton of classes, hang out, drink coffee, and chat. Nothing like it! I wish I could conference all semester long.

Lucky Jane said...

I agree about the usefulness of conferences, even the ones the adjunct you describe was having with her students. One-on-one conferences are one of the rare instances of when the "active learning" and "student engagement" pushed by administrators actually make sense.

I haven't taught comp since my first job back in 2005, but even nowadays, when I've had two sections of twenty-five students in the writing-intensive intro-to-the-major course, I require them to see me for conferences to pick up their first paper, not coincidentally called a "handshake essay," which they may revise. The risk is that grades on the first drafts are low, and some students will not handle theirs well. However, as Dr Crazy points out, I spend much less time thinking of tactful ways to direct their revisions, and the students must engage critically with their own writing. Besides, 99.44% of the time, you're going to be telling them to delete their present pointless throat-clearing intro and to outline their drafts to determine what their *real* argument is.

The bonus is that they understand you are committed to—even care about—their learning, and you get a chance at least to learn their names. You'll be surprised what you can cover in ten minutes, or even five.

Tree of Knowledge said...

What Dr. Crazy said. Also, cancel class for conferences. At least one per class. (So a total of 4 minimum for you, more if you can swing it). And give yourself a break every 4-5 conferences. You can always justify the canceled classes by calling it "revision week" or something and have students report to you at the end of the week what they did to revise. But I just cancel them for conferences.

I do revision conferences. I schedule 20 minutes, but don't always use it. I write minimal comments on the draft (sometimes, as little as checks to mark where I want to ask questions), but then ask students questions to help them figure out how to do what I've checked off on the rubric as needing to be done. Whenever the student gets it, I make them write it down on the draft (otherwise they forget). Basically, the conference takes the place of comments. A friend schedules them so that she reads each essay right before the conference so she doesn't forget anything.

This works for me because often students can tell me what they meant much more clearly than they wrote it.

Fretful Porpentine said...

I'm a big conferencing fan, but I agree that there's no way to make it work without cancelling class that week. It's too exhausting to do both, and you're going to need every time slot you can get. That said, it's worth it -- it's pretty much the only time I get to tailor the instruction to the student, as well as a rare chance to give them feedback while it might actually do some good. And when a draft is really going off the rails, it's a chance to talk to the student in a non-punitive way and find out what the heck they were thinking, and figure out how to make it work. It makes grading the final product at least 50% less frustrating.

Also, most students lovelovelove the individual attention and say warm and fuzzy stuff on evals. So there's also that.