Based on my experience in Political Science, when one hears the words ‘student conferences’, one immediately equates it to large officially organized events that offer free food, and that host a disproportionately large group of over zealous students, all busting at the seams with reapplied theories that they secretly believe holds the key to understanding universal truths. It is not that professors from the Political Science department are immune to the benefits of meeting with students on a one on one basis to discuss their overall progress in class or a specific assignment. Rather, given the extremely large class sizes, upwards of 55 or more, student conferencing often gets pushed to the back burner.
My first encounter with a teaching culture constructed around student conferencing was when I received a teaching assistantship with the English department’s Interdisciplinary Writing TA’ship program. For those of you familiar with Grey’s Anatomy, it was similar to when Christina Yang, a resident in a competitive surgical program at Settle Grace Hospital found herself on the dermatology wing of the hospital. She is amazed and memorized with how the slow pace of that department allows each resident to enjoy better resident care [not just focus on better patient care]. Residents had schedules that allowed them the benefit of a good nights sleep, and in between patients, they received hand massages from physical therapists hired exclusively to focus on resident needs. The Writing department revealed smaller class sizes and teaching style that focused on unit assignments and teaching concepts aimed at mastery of these assignments. What can I say I am a changed woman. I have now embraced conferencing, and find it an effective way to gauge the level of understanding of your class. It also allows you to establish a positive rapport with each student, and identify what concepts need reinforcing or which students need more direction. Most importantly, it allows you to identify the short falls in your teaching. It highlights where firmer connections need to be made, or where supplemental learning is needed.
However, regardless of class size, conferencing is only effective if you the instructor have a clear objective of what you want to ensure your students to walk away with. If not, it becomes multiple awkward moments of “do you have any questions? Or, are you sure you understand what you need to do? In my conferences, I typically use them to help redirect students to the focus on their papers. Depending on the assignment I either casual use the Socratic method to ensure they conceptualize their papers based on the outline, or my refreshing their memory on the major requirements of the paper. In return, I ask them to bring an outline of their most recent draft to the conference. I believe that this helps them to first be able to discuss their paper in detail with me, second to help them see the overall picture of the multiple parts and what they have accomplish and need to accomplish. Lastly, it helps me get a firm grasp on their specific paper without mismanaging my time by focusing on a draft versus a completed paper.