I’ve used conferencing for years as my main form of feedback and assessment. I stopped collecting piles of books, stopped writing margin notes that no-one ever read, and stopped correcting work like a human spell-checker. Aside from the hours of time saved by not “correcting” work, I also built stronger relationships with students as a result of regularly sitting with them 1:1 to go through their work.
At the moment, ChatGPT has been banned by the Department of Education in most states across Australia. Hopefully there will come a time when this stance is reviewed and where the technology can be used by teachers and students in responsible ways.
One of the ways ChatGPT could be highly effective is as a support technology for conferencing.
What is conferencing?
I use a conferencing model from Cris Tovani, outlined in her book So, What Do they Really Know?. It’s also explained in brief here.
The workshop/conferencing model of lesson is perfectly suited for providing live feedback. After students have submitted a piece of work – whether it’s a sentence, a paragraph, or a whole essay – I’ll commit to the next one to four lessons using this structure. Here’s an example from Year 12 English:
- Opening/Mini lesson: Overview of ‘tutorials’ available for comparison texts. These tutes were created in the 2020 lockdowns and include an essay and discussion from each of the Y12 teachers on an idea from the text. These resources could also be sourced from study guides, YouTube, or anywhere else suitable. As long as it is work that students can complete under their own steam, it’s fine.
- Work time: Students, individually or in groups, watch the tutorial videos, take their own notes, annotate the sample essays, read the books.
- Conferencing: During the work time, I’ll sit at the front of the room or move from student to student, depending on how long I’ll need to speak to them for. If it’s feedback on a couple of sentences – like a contention, or an outline – I’ll go from desk to desk. If it’s feedback on a full practice essay, I’ll call them up one at a time. I provide my feedback verbally. This is generally the first time I’m reading their work – remember, this is about effectively using my time as well as providing good feedback, so I’m not spending hours out of class hunched over writing feedback and then just reading it to them. It’s live, which has the added benefit that my feedback must be concise, and to focus on only one or two key areas for improvement. The students make their own notes on what I’m saying. I never touch the red pen.
- Catch and release: Occasionally I’ll pop my head up to see how the class is going, ask if there are any questions about the task at hand, and so on.
- Debrief: A quick, 5 minute discussion at the end of the lesson to check in on the main points of the tutes.
Like I said, for a longer piece of work I’ll commit to up to four lessons in this structure. I have twenty-something students in the class, so if I sit with each for ten minutes, there’s my 4 x 50-minute periods. That’s OK. I’m comfortable giving up four periods of everyone’s time to go through this process, and after a few rounds, so are the students.
This conferencing process happens several times per unit. As often as possible really, as I believe the more time spent working one-on-one with students the better, and this is the best way to do that in the time constraints. When the final piece of work is submitted it goes straight to comment/grade feedback, with no corrective annotation. This summative feedback does not serve the purpose of improving the next piece of work, which is generally on a totally different topic.
The goal throughout this process is on constantly developing student autonomy. It achieves this in a few ways. Firstly, the students know not to rely on me as a crutch during the conferencing lessons. If you don’t know an answer, Google it (or ask ChatGPT if you’re not too worried about accuracy). If you’re stuck, ask a friend.
Next, getting the students to write down the feedback, and to reflect on it themselves and develop their own goals for next time, is much more effective that corrective written feedback. Finally, I’ve noticed that students are much more open to asking for specific help and advice after a few rounds of this process – it helps build trust, and trust is a prerequisite for asking for, receiving, and responding to feedback.
Bringing ChatGPT into Conferencing
If ChatGPT isn’t unblocked, it’s highly likely that another form of generative AI makes its way into your classroom soon. Whatever the application or platform you use, there are many great ways to incorporate a language model into a conferencing session:
- Pre-class Preparation: Students can use ChatGPT to research and gather information on a topic before the conferencing lesson begins. With the usual caveat of checking for accuracy, ChatGPT can be a great research tool.
- Writing Practice: Students can practice writing and receive immediate feedback from ChatGPT on their writing, including grammar, structure, and clarity. They can get technical feedback instantly while the teacher works on more nuanced feedback.
- Group Discussions: ChatGPT can facilitate group discussions by providing prompts, asking questions, and keeping track of contributions from each member. Small groups of students could work together using ChatGPT as a tutor while the teacher sits with students 1:1.
- Conferencing Support: ChatGPT can assist during the conferencing process by providing additional information and context to support the teacher’s feedback. Once the teacher has left, a student can run follow-up questions through ChatGPT.
- Personalised Feedback: ChatGPT can provide individualised feedback to each student during the conferencing process, taking into account their unique needs. For instance if one student is writing a blog and another a short story (e.g., for VCE English Creating Texts) ChatGPT could provide different advice to each.
- Error Correction: ChatGPT can help students identify and correct errors in their writing, giving them the opportunity to make immediate improvements. Students don’t need to “wait their turn” for 1:1 feedback over smaller errors.
- Vocabulary Expansion: ChatGPT can suggest new words and phrases to students during the conferencing process, helping them to expand their vocabulary and improve their writing. It’s basically an extension of a thesaurus, but it can provide many more examples of how to use a word in context.
- Peer Feedback: ChatGPT can facilitate peer feedback sessions, where students can review and provide feedback to each other’s work.
- Reflection and Self-Assessment: ChatGPT can support students’ reflection and self-assessment by guiding them through the process and helping them set goals for future improvement.
- Progress Tracking: ChatGPT can keep track of students’ progress during the conferencing process, providing them with a clear record of their achievements and areas for improvement. Using the applications capacity to store chats, students could refer back to their ongoing “feedback chat” throughout their studies.
Conferencing is a highly effective method of providing live feedback to students. By using the conferencing model, teachers can build stronger relationships with students, provide concise and focused feedback, and develop student autonomy.
The addition of ChatGPT or other AI-powered language models can further enhance this process, by helping students gather information, practice writing, and receive immediate feedback.
While ChatGPT is currently banned by the Department of Education in many states in Australia, there may come a time in the future when the technology can be used in responsible ways. In the meantime, it’s important for teachers to continue to use conferencing and other effective methods of feedback and assessment to support student learning and growth.
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