Conference Grading 2.0

All, Guides

When my Spring Semester begins on Monday I will embark on my second year of conference grading after using it in both the Spring and Fall Semesters in 2019 and I am still all in. Almost a year ago I blogged about my worries in anticipation of my first round of grade conferences:

Will I need to spend an agonizing day crafting counter-arguments? Will I need to spend the day nagging laggards? Will I enjoy a day celebrating lessons learned and achievements made? Will this week of conferences be full of joy and interesting conversations or have I simply traded in one form of drudgery and misery for another?

Making the Grade

No. Counter-arguments are rarely a concern. Yes. There are still laggards and nagging because humans. But after many rounds of grade conferences I have found so much joy and celebration as I engage in real talk about writing with my students after a process that sparked real reflection about their writing that I cannot imagine returning to traditional grading. However, the system is still not perfect and I am currently weighing how I want to tweak our process. The essential structure has remained the same (outlined in Making the Grade) as I prepare students to craft our deliverable then we develop our standards and finally drafts are shared in workshop before students share a final deliverable and their case for the grade their work deserves. However, the framework used for students presenting their case changed from the Spring to the Fall semesters. In the Spring I had students complete a spread sheet and in the Fall students completed an actual form. The form collected the same information but encouraged more reflection. However, both methods were prone to user error and were cumbersome to use and access during our conference. While it was (and is) handy to have the form information collected in one location for a big picture look at the class, I want to create a process that offers students more support as they draft and revise so I am considering shifting some of this process earlier in our unit cycle. I want to create a weigh station with small group conferences to better set up our actual workshop. I hope that shift will provide more support for students while still engaged in the writing process and make the grade conference more focused.

If you are interested in reading more about my conference grading journey check out Grade Conferences: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and The Grade Conference Transition. Conference grading is not easier or faster than traditional grading, but I find having conversations much more meaningful than writing notes that may never be used or even read. There is a lot of teaching happening during those conferences (one reason I want to shift some of that conversation to earlier in the students’ writing process) and I would much rather be teaching than grading. And, most important, you can witness the transformation in your students’ ability to think and talk about their writing as well as how their writing develops. Helping students develop as reflective and self-regulating writers is one of my major goals as a teacher and conference grading is a key part of that process. How do you help your students develop as reflective and self-regulating writers?


  • Deanna, were you in Baltimore? The best session (in a raft of inspirational sessions) I attended was on Saturday morning, “Encouraging Inquiry and Meaningful Assessment in Secondary and Post-Secondary Writing: Face-to-Face Grading Conferences with Student Writers.” The presentation was awesome and focused on conferences, negotiated grades, as key to making teaching writing more democratic. I know you and the presenters would have a lot of great conversations around this topic. I only wished I were a full-time teacher once again instead of a substitute!

    • Sounds like a great session, have to check out the list of presenters. Here’s hoping you get your own classroom soon!

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