Student led conferences are one of the best things that you can do with your students to build ownership of learning. I tend to be the only one in the school that usually does student-led conferences in the Fall. Most of my colleagues feel that it’s too soon and that students won’t be prepared or have enough to share. They also value the time with parents to establish their expectations and learn about the family. I think it’s important to do what’s right for you but I think it’s also possible to achieve both those goals with student led conferences with a lot less stress.
Quite honestly, we have been busy little bees in our classroom establishing routines and beginning various notebooks. Our minds have been on a grand opening celebration that is taking place at our new school this coming Monday. So, student led conferencing has not been the focus of our attention. I have done student conferences for years but this time, my time felt short. I usually had a hand out for children with a checklist that they checked off as they did each step to prepare. There was always a “three stars and a wish” for parents to complete: 3 things they liked about their child’s work, and 1 thing they’d like them to work on.
Student Led Conference Goals
It was time for a fresh take on this. Here were my goals:
1. I wanted to be show concern for the environment and not have so much paper being copied.
2. I wanted students to know what to do and feel comfortable doing it in a private area while others were having conferences too.
3. I wanted parents to enjoy the conference, feel that they shared a part in the conference and feel that they were a team with their child and with the school.
4. I also wanted parents to take an active role in their child’s learning at home. (My parents are very eager to help so this went over really well.)
And so…the planning began.
My student-led conferences run for 30 minutes and each session has 4 families in at the same time. In a nutshell, for term 1, students share their work with their parents and then give them a tour of the room.
I created some privacy folders so that students could have privacy with their parents as they shared. Inside the folder, there is a simple checklist for students to follow, including introducing the teacher to their parents and offering their parents a chair. 🙂 On the other side, I included a check list for parents (including relax and enjoy). I let them know that their child is very happy to share with them. It also indicates that they will be filling out a goal sheet with their child. *I sent this sheet to parents via email as a heads up before their conference*.
Students Getting Busy
Although this may look like so busy and maybe even chaotic, students were really engaged as we handed out their folders. They got busy choosing their favorite work and things that they needed extra help with, to share with their parents.
Each student was given mini sticky notes: 3 for their Mindful Journal, 1 for each of their folders where they could outline their choices to share with their parents. You can choose whatever subjects or folders you want for students to showcase. At the Spring conference, I will put some of my own sticky notes in with reflections and wonders that students can show their parents too. It is good to use all kinds of formative assessment tools and strategies as the year goes on to keep students reflecting, self-assessing and moving forward in learning. You can find a set of formative assessment tools all ready for you here.
The Big Day
There were no special folders or portfolios to make, this conference was based on authentic learning. As students ran their conferences, I circulated around the room and answered any questions the students needed help with. I played some relaxing music as the conferences ran to help everyone enjoy the process. 🙂
There was a lot of smiling going on!
I use Classroom Messenger this year to communicate with parents. I sent a question to parents asking them about the new format and the responses were very positive. The goal sheet for students and parents includes a space for parents to indicate what they feel their child needs help with and how they can help at home. There’s also a spot to check to say that they need some suggestions for helping at home.
Many parents liked this sheet and were able to identify what their child needed help with. I was also able to chit chat with all parents after their conference and confirm or add to their goal sheet so that they were aware just where their child was at with learning.
If you would like to get your own copy of this easy peasy conference format that I created for our student led conferences, you can pick yours up here at my TPT store.
Helping at Home
I love how students take ownership of their learning. I love how parents felt so much pride as their children shared their work and their classroom with them. It’s the building of this kind of community that helps learning. The goal sheets were so much fun to read. I will be copying them and sending them home for parents as they had home goals on them.
For those that ticked the box that they would like more suggestions, I will be sending home sets of place value cut outs so students can practice making numbers with them. I will also send a few extra copies of Math notebook pages for practice at home. For many who were concerned about spelling, I will be sending home some sheets and letters that students can use to practice making words. This is based on the book by the same title by Patricia Cunningham. This is great spelling practice and a great way for parents to help at home that is open ended.
Oh…and I forgot to mention. On the day we were to practice our student led conferences, I usually have students get into pairs and pretend that their partner is their parent. Here, they practice going through their work and sharing their learning joys and struggles. Unfortunately, we were called to the gym at this time for a special rehearsal for our grand opening assembly. It was for the whole morning so students did not get to practice at all! I felt quite unprepared in terms of the students’ role because of this! Realistically though, students had been “practicing” as they regularly self assessed as part of the learning cycle. So my students stepped up to the plate and did a smashingly good job despite this minor “setback”! Yes, I am positive it would have been more polished had we had the time to practice more. But children are resilient, and when you empower them with the tools they need to succeed, nothing can get in their way!