Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Student Led Conferences

I know that parent-teacher conference time is right around the corner for many of us - and not that farther behind for the rest - but last year was the first year that I didn't hold parent-teacher conferences.

Last year, my students led the conferences.  They compiled the data, archived work samples in portfolios, evaluated their behavior and work habits, invited the parents, reminded the parents, presented their data, answered questions, and even sent home thank you notes to parents for attending.

And it.  Was.  Glorious.

I decided to look into student-led conferences after one particularly disastrous evening.  In my district, all conferences are scheduled on one evening and the following morning, which means you are exhausted by the time everything is done.  Half of those who said they were going to attend don't show up.  And when you need to share less-than-stellar work, the person responsible for that work (the student) isn't even there!  So, guess who's on the hot seat for it?  Yep.

Student-led conferences solved all of those problems for me.  First, I'm sitting in, guiding and answering questions that the kids can't, but my role is more supervisor than leader.  Second, participation was through the roof - almost 90% of my kids had parents attend.  Third, the kids were the ones presenting the work, so they were the ones responsible for explaining the how and the why behind their learning.  At the end of the evening, I knew I'd never go back.

Here's how you can begin student-led conferencing!
  • Begin archiving in students' portfolios and data binders.  Plan to capture a variety of student work at regular intervals so that parents will have an accurate picture of how their kids are learning and growing.
  • Sketch out your timeline.  Begin with the date for conferences and plan backwards from there.  Pencil in dates for capturing data and work samples, rehearsing with students, sending home invitations, sending home reminders, making copies for the evening, and then following up with parents.
  • Rehearse with students.  I provide mine with a script to use during the conferences, and we practice daily in the days leading up to the conferences, with other students providing feedback.  It's a new experience for the kids, and the more you practice, the more comfortable they'll feel.
  • Plan the evening.  Will you do one-on-one conferences or will you host multiple conferences at one time?  Where will everyone sit?  What data will you need to have at your fingertips?  Where can students store their materials until they're ready?  Where will you have those waiting sit until it's their time to meet?
  • Reflect.  How did it go?  What would you change next year?  Consider getting feedback from your students and their parents to see what adjustments you need to make.
  • Follow up with parents.  Students can send home a thank you note with a line or two from you thanking them for attending.

One unforeseen yet pleasant effect of this type of conferring was that my students OWNED their work and learning.  It was theirs - their samples, their data, their evaluations - and they knew it.  And they loved it.  I had some even show up in ties and button down shirts with portfolios in hand, ready to lead the conference.  It made a difference in how they approached their learning in our classroom, knowing that it was truly their responsibility.

This type of conferring takes more planning on the front end - really, from the first day of school - but is totally worth it.  So, I created all of the forms, timelines, and instructions I would need to make sure my conferences run even more smoothly this year.  You can absolutely plan student-led conferencing on your own, but if you'd like a little help, check out my student-led conferencing kit in my TpT store!

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