I’ve always thought that conferencing with my students is an important aspect of essay instruction. But, dang, it can be overwhelming to have ten kids lined up at your desk waiting for help. While you’re trying to focus and help the student, you’re peripherally watching the kids in line joking with each other, pushing each other, and generally not accomplishing anything.
I’ve tried having kids just wait until the seat is empty to come up, but then you have kids hovering over their chairs watching you constantly while they wait to make a dash to the conference. So that didn’t solve the problem.
You may wonder why I don’t get up and wander about the room so I can help everyone. Well, I’ll tell you why:
- For one, if I stand up, about 18 hands go in the air. There is no way I can help that many people in one class period, so instead they just sit their with their hands up wondering what’s taking so long.
- Also, walking around makes it too easy to ask me questions, so I get questions like “does this sentence sound okay?” I’m working with juniors and I’m not about to read every sentence they write to see if it “sounds okay”. Goodness.
- Finally, walking around means I have to get up and down (I have to get down to eye level when I’m talking with them), and quite honestly, my knees aren’t up for it.
So, I stopped walking around and tried to find a solution to the line-up problem. And when I did, it was sad to think I hadn’t come up with it before.
Channel your inner DMV employee, but with a smile
We’ve all been to the DMV (or the Secretary of State as it’s known in Michigan) to renew our license or get a new car tag. If your experiences have been like mine, they haven’t been very pleasant. There is lot of waiting and not a lot of happiness. Okay, let’s face it, it’s miserable.
But they do one thing right: each person takes a number so they don’t have to stand in line impatiently wondering when it will be their turn.
So one day I cut up some notecards into one inch strips, numbered each strip from one to twelve, and set the stack on my desk. I asked the class who had been to the DMV and most raised their hands.
“Good, because today we are starting a new system for conferencing. I’m going to be the DMV employee, and you’re going to be the customer. So, if/when you need help, come grab a number from my desk and then keep working until I call you. Write your questions down if you need to so you don’t forget.” At first they chuckled because it seemed silly. But it worked!
It works so well that I had to make more numbers. It’s also kind of fun. If a kid doesn’t hear me call their number, I get my “DMV voice” on and ask louder and more jokingly “angrily”. Now the other kids chime in, too, parroting the numbers I call out.
This year I also started using this slide show so kids could keep up with which number we’re on, even if they’re listening to music or whatever while they write. (Grab yours from the link and then you can take away or add numbers as needed for you class!)
This was a super simple solution (whew say that six times fast!) to an annoying problem, and I hope it works for you, too!