Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Student-Led Conferences

As family conferences are rapidly approaching, I figured it would be a nice time to talk about the student-led conferences that take place in our classroom and school!

As part of the culture of our school, we encourage students to take responsibility for their learning and education.  We want them to take ownership of the things they learn and be able to discuss their own areas of weakness, as well as their areas of strength.  They get the opportunity to reflect on these things and share them at their student-led conferences!

In our classroom, composed of 4th and 5th graders, the students do the following things to prepare for their conference.

First, they write their own narrative report.  We give them a guideline of the things they can include in their narrative, which includes questions they can reflect on in regards to their learning in each subject area and their behavior.  While we do not revise and edit their narrative for them, we do sometimes have the students add more information if their narrative is too vague or have them rewrite their narrative if it is illegible.  Our purpose for not revising and editing the narratives for the students is so that their family gets a true picture of the student's independent writing.  

Secondly, the students select 5 - 10 portfolio pieces that they would like to share with their families at the conference.   When students finish an activity at school, they choose to either display the activity in the hallway or classroom or put the activity in their portfolio folder.  Their portfolio folder is basically a hanging file folder where the students house all their completed work until it is time for them to pick and reflect on their best pieces.  For each conference, the students select the 5 - 10 pieces of work that they feel represents some of their best work and/or that show the most academic or behavioral growth.  The students write a small reflection that explains what the piece is and why they chose it.  

After the conference, we keep these portfolio pieces in a separate location and add to them after each conference.  At the end of the year, the students have a compilation of all their best work over the year!

Finally, for some students, we practice how their conference may run in order to help them feel prepared.   Because students have different personalities, the student-led conference is sometimes more challenging for some students than others, especially the first time around!  We typically can predict who these students are; therefore, we will practice with them before their conference.  The majority of the students, though, do not practice prior to their conference!

During the actual conference, the student sits in the teacher seat, while the family and I sit around the  table.   The student can show and talk about the portfolio pieces first or read the narrative, whichever he feels comfortable doing.  

During the conference, the families often ask the students questions, give them positive feedback, or share any concerns with the student.  The first to respond to these comments is the student...not me!  The student takes responsibility for what is happening in the room around his learning and behavior, whether it be positive or negative!

Throughout the conference, I may make comments or ask clarifying questions; however, I do not dominate the conversation.  Many times after the student's part of the conference, the families may have specific questions for me, but I always try to include the student in the answer somehow.  It may be by simply giving my response to the question and then asking if the student would agree or disagree and why.  

It is absolutely amazing to see these 9- and 10-year olds present their learning to their families!  It gives them accountability for what happens everyday in the classroom, as well as helps them learn to articulate their strengths and weaknesses as learners, both academically and behaviorally.  

Just as we differentiate students' instruction, we also differentiate the amount of support we give the students at their conference.  We may do more prompting with some students, particularly some of our autistic and special ed students; however, it is still our goal to get them to be as independent as possible in terms of presenting their work by the last conference of the year.  

It's hard to imagine "parent/teacher" conferences that do not include a student!  Shouldn't it be "student/parent/teacher" conferences?  After all, it's the student's learning that is the focus of the conference...shouldn't the student be there and take an active role?  Food for thought!  :-)   

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