Doyle Online Writing Lab
Holding a Paper Conference
As with all things at Reed, people have different ideas about how to hold paper conferences, and different strategies work for different people. Here are some suggestions I have heard over the years.
- Begin by asking the student what (s)he thought of the paper. Students usually know what their strengths and weaknesses are, and this can be a good starting point. It also allows you to determine if the student is off base about his or her abilities, or if the student is proud of elements of the paper that you didn't notice. It helps reinforce that ultimately the student should learn to listen to his or her own internal editor.
- Begin by asking the student if they had 24 more hours what they would have done. This is a version of tip #1 and can be used if the student avoids the first question by saying, "I don't know...what did you think?"
- If it is the first paper conference with a student, ask about his writing process. Does he generally revise? How much time did he take to write a paper? If he is a freshman, did he write papers this length and in this field in high school?
- If is the first paper conference in Hum 110, students may be very anxious. You may find it helpful to point out the purpose of paper conferences, and to reassure the student that is normal to talk about writing and revising.
- If you are having students revise the paper, hold the paper conference after the draft is due and before the final version is due. This gives students a chance to make the most use of your comments.
- Begin with a positive comment. While certainly some of your criticism should be constructive, make sure you reward the student for at least one thing they did well or better than last time. This should be a true attribute, rather than something such as "I like your font."
- Don't follow the positive comments with "but...." This negates the comment before it.