I'm pretty much conferencing all day today with writing students. I set the appointments at 20 minutes each, but I still can't see them all today, so I saw some yesterday and will see some tomorrow.
The conferences range from the student who comes in and says "I don't know why I'm here" to the student who comes in and says "Here's what I'm thinking of writing for this paper."
I read somewhere that if you meet Queen Elizabeth, you should relax because she's so good at meeting people that she'll sort of help you chat. (I can't remember where I read that, and have no idea if it's true. But I also can't imagine what I'd have to say to Queen Elizabeth, or pretty much any celebrity, though I'd be very willing to try to say something worth responding to if I ever met Sherman Alexie!)
At any rate, I try to guide the students to something useful even if they don't quite understand.
I've been having pretty busy office hours in general this week, and I have to say, the quality of conversation with someone who comes in to ask about some, say, literature we've been reading is orders of magnitude more fun than with someone who hasn't been to class and so doesn't know what the assignment is. I had a lovely conversation with a student who asked if poets just find themselves writing sonnets, for example. That's a great question, and it came after some questions about how sonnets work, and had something to do with what we've been reading in class.
On the other hand, I had a student basically ask if I shouldn't make my lecture notes available. She was unbelieving when I said that my lecture notes wouldn't do her much good because I know the works we've been discussing so well that I put a few words on a piece of paper, some page number/line number type information so I can find passages quickly, and that's it. She's missed class a bit, and hadn't gotten notes from another student, despite my suggestion (at our previous meeting) that she do so. (The extra depressing thing is that I have students in all my courses exchange emails and such with several other people in class so that they can do so, and when I have them do it, I explicitly tell them that's why we're doing it.)
So far, I've seen nine students for these conferences (plus a few from other courses), and I'm pretty pleased. I'd say seven of the nine were prepared and give me confidence. The other two, I think, are way more ready to write this paper than they were before we met, so I count that as success.