Conferencing with students

Posted: January 6, 2014 in Pedagogy
Tags: ,

Tutoring students one-on-one is time consuming especially when there is no goal in mind or if students come unprepared to discuss their papers. The following resources and approaches help to make conferencing more productive and beneficial for both the teacher and the student.


Smith College: Jacobson Center for Writing, Teaching, and Learning

  • Higher order concerns are thesis and focus, audience and purpose, development and organization. These come first.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas: ENG 401A Advanced Composition

“Top-Down” Editing by Dr. Patricia Sullivan at Purdue University

Inspect the document level by level

  1. Document level: Look at the title, introduction, abstract, headings, visual/verbal roadmap
  2. Section-level: Look at each section individually for coherence and clarity
  3. Paragraph/sentence level: Look at each paragraph, then each sentence for development and correctness.

Higher order Concerns

  • Thesis or focus
  • Audience and purpose
  • Organization
  • Development
  • Coherence
  • Repetition of a key term
  • Synonyms
  • Pronouns
  • Transitional Words
  • Sentence Pattern

Purdue University: OWL Purdue

Thesis or focus:

  • Does the paper have a central thesis?
  • Can you, if asked, offer a one-sentence explanation or summary of what the paper is about?
  • Ask someone to read the first paragraph or two and tell you what he or she thinks the paper will discuss.

Audience and purpose:

  • Do you have an appropriate audience in mind? Can you describe them?
  • Do you have a clear purpose for the paper? What is it intended to do or accomplish?
  • Why would someone want to read this paper?
  • Does the purpose match the assignment?


  • Does the paper progress in an organized, logical way?
  • Go through the paper and jot down notes on the topics of the various paragraphs. Look at this list and see if you can think of a better organization.
  • Make a brief outline. Does the organization make sense? Should any part be moved to another part?
  • Ask someone to read the paper. At the end of each paragraph, ask the person to forecast where the paper is headed. If the paper goes in a direction other than the one forecasted by the reader, is there a good reason, or do you need to rewrite something there?


  • Are there places in the paper where more details, examples, or specifics are needed?
  • Do any paragraphs seem much shorter and in need of more material than others?
  • Ask someone to read the paper and comment if something is unclear and needs more description, explanation, or support.

Tutoring/Commenting Style

Minimalist tutoring style promoted by Jeff Brooks

  • Student does the bulk of the work with his/her own writing

Non-directive, hands-off approach

  • Make comments in the form of questions or “consider this” statements

Student-focused feedback

  • Ask student what she/he needed/wanted help with before assessing
  • Students know their own weaknesses. Make the session about ways to improve and scaffold skills

 Three positive, three negative comments approach

  • Introduce comments with an audience reaction
  • Draw arrows or highlight to promote the discussion of organization
  • Keep comments holistic unless specific areas need the creation of intricate levels of logic
  • Be conscientious when delivering constructive feedback
  • Phrase suggestions as “try this” or “consider this” or used questions

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