“Tell us what you think you did well in your writing?”
“I put spaces between the words…and I sounded them out. I spelled my right.”
“What else did you do well?”
“I put a capital letter at the beginning.”
“What could you do to make your writing better?”
“I could put a dot at the end. I forget what it’s called.”
“Yes, you could use a period at the end. What is our goal for how many sentences we want to be writing by the next report card?”
“Exactly. At least three. What other ideas could you have put into your writing that would help you to get three sentences?”
Thus began one of the student-led parent conferences in my grade one classroom last term. Each time I do these conferences, they go more smoothly. This is probably because I am more comfortable each time with the process, and I pass that feeling on to the students. They really enjoy talking about what they’re learning.
The conferences always center around what has been posted on the student’s individual blog. Their blogs are an online portfolio that shows their learning in all of our subject areas through the year. Because we’ve posted samples of their work throughout the term, the parents have almost all seen the work before. Even so, the comments their children make regarding their goals help parents to know what specific skills we have been working on and what to watch for through the next few months.
The Students Choose
In the past, I have allowed the students to choose three articles from their blog to share with their parents that they think reflect their best work . The students are always drawn to entries that contain videos or pictures they’ve drawn. Visuals are so important to six year olds (as they are to us all). During our most recent conferencing, I asked the children to consider and choose their best writing, their best representing, and their best project. Let me explain those last two items.
Representing is a strand of our language arts curriculum in which the students show what they know about something through a drawing, drama, clay, etc. It’s about creating a visual representation of knowledge. I love this strand because students who are not strong in the text-centered strands of reading and writing can — and often do — excel at this. Project refers to the culminating projects from our inquiry units. At the time of our conferences, only two projects had been posted.
Since the beginning of the school year, we have been talking about what good writers and good representers do. We have anchor charts in our classroom that we frequently refer to. Because of this, the students were able to fairly easily talk about what they have done well and what they were still working on. When it was time to talk about their projects, I asked the students to remind us of some of the things they had learned about that particular topic.
Then, we talked about their progress toward their reading goal, and set a new goal together.
Time alone with parents
I always also provide a short chance for parents to talk to me by themselves. I just thank the students for the great job they did explaining their learning (not an easy thing for them to do in front of their teacher and parent) and tell them they can go and explore the Legos I have placed outside the door. Rarely do the parents and I talk about anything that should not be said in front of the students, but parents are just learning about student-led conferences, and I think they feel more comfortable with the opportunity to spend time in a more traditional conference, however briefly.
In the spring, when we hold our next conference, I’ve decided I will only ask the students to leave if the parents request it. It has been my experience that by the spring, the students are much more comfortable with the process and will do more of the “leading” and reflecting on their growing knowledge and skills.
The conferences are about the children and their learning. They are about where the children have come from and where they are going. They are about how their parents and I can support their learning journey. It only makes sense for them to be there, too.
Latest posts by Kathy Cassidy (see all)
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- Passion Based Learning (PBL) in Primary: Making Up the Rules - March 13, 2019
- Passion Based Learning (PBL) in the Primary Grades: Who Asks the Questions? - February 17, 2019
Great post about student lead conferences. I just recently heard about this beeing done in middle school and it sounds like such a great idea. I’m an aministrator in high school with kids aged 16-18. Why we haven’t thought about this before! You describe it well and that will help us in our work even if our students are older! Thanks!
My entire school division, K-12, does student-led conferences. Every teacher does it differently, but I really like using digital portfolios. If the parents follow their child’s blog, there are no surprises!
Kathy I love the way you have set up student led parent conferences. Not only does it reinforce with students what they have learned but it sure gives parents the whole picture of what their child is learning in school. It is great to see how you have given parents a choice to talk privately with you as well. Not having that time has been a concern to many parents and you have a quick way to meet the needs of both parents and students. As always – well done!!
I appreciate that, Lorna.
Communicating with parents is so important. I think keeping parents informed between conferences and giving them chances to talk to us outside of the official conference keeps the lines of communication open as well.
I love this post. The detail is great. I hope you don’t mind if I share the link to your post with a few teachers I know? The practical example of student blogs as portfolios at this age is awesome. Thanks so much for sharing 🙂
Of course I don’t mind. I wrote it to share. 🙂
Thanks for sharing this Kathy and thanks for continuing with your exemplary work in both student led technology and student led conferences. I am learning so much and have so much to learn but with leaders like you in our midst it becomes so much easier!
Thanks, Lori. I appreciate your support of what I do.
Like you, I learn every day. Some of the people I learn from are colleagues and some of them are only six, but I learn from them all.
This is my first visit to your blog. I love the way your children are able to articulate their learning and identify their learning goals, even though they are quite young. Although our children can accompany their parents and participate in the discussions, I feel that allowing the student to actually lead the discussion helps them to understand the responsibility they have for their own learning.
This is something I will take back to our Learning Community after the holidays.
I’m glad that the article is useful to you, Pam. It isn’t easy for my students to be in front of their parents and myself and talk about their learning. I’m always very proud of them when they do it. I find that during the second round of conferences they are much more confident than they were in the first set.
I’m glad you found the Voices blog! There are lots of thoughtful, intelligent people who write for this space. I hope you’ll read all of their work.
Thank you for sharing your students’ experiences! I love the idea of student-led conferences. I never understood why we send home students for half days so that their parents can come in to talk with teachers about STUDENT learning!! This process would require teachers to be more accountable to students, students to their own learning, and parents to the process. I love it.
One of the things I like about our report cards is that we have a “goal” page. On it, each stake-holder has a space–the teacher, the parent and the child. At the conference, we discuss what the child’s goal will be and then agree on what each of our roles will be in helping the child to reach their goal by the next reporting period. Those commitments are put onto the report card and become part of the next report. I love that we all work together toward that goal.
This is a great topic! Wearing my ed journalist hat, I wrote about student-led conferences quite a bit in the late 90s and early 2000s and certainly thought they’d be standard practice by 2012. Not so much!
Most of the conferences I observed were in the middle grades, in California and Louisville KY. One interesting twist, that I observed in Long Beach CA (a multiple Broad Prize winning district) was to have student-led conferences where community members and district-level educators participated (1-3 per student) and provided another audience for students to talk about what they were learning. This may be more appropriate for upper grades… I suspect so… it was especially good in situations where there were children whose parents were not available or willing to participate.
Thanks so much for writing about this, Kathy!
It is an interesting idea for older students. Having people they perhaps did not know as part of their “audience” would be very stretching.
I think you are right about young student. It is difficult enough for some of my students to talk in front of people they know. Adding people they did not know as well would be more than most of them should have to deal with in a conference situation.
This post came at the perfect time for me. I am in my second year of having my students develop e-portfolios, but I feel I need to make it more meaningful for the students (and myself). Having student-led conferences is a great next step for me. Thank you for sharing your experience.
Bravo on the e-portfolios, Thea! There are still not that many out there. I think having digital portfolios is a much better preparation for what our students will face outside of school than a paper version.
We do something similar in my school. I have trialled digital portfolios through PowerPoint, but missed the feedback component as they were only able to be shared twice a year. So now I am going to use individual student blogs. Would love to see some of your student blogs, or any posts you have written about setting these up and deciding what content gets posted?
Here is a link to one of my student’s blogs. http://classblogmeister.com/blog.php?user_id=1337&blogger_id=349409 You can see any of the other students by clicking on their names here. http://classblogmeister.com/blog.php?blogger_id=1337 The students usually choose what they will write about. Sometimes there is a prompt from me. Sometimes I say “we’re all going to …” It depends what we are doing. When we finish a project, I give them a choice of medium, and then post the video or picture or whatever they have created on their blog. I hope that answers you question. If not, push back.
Thanks for posting this. My 4th graders have just started a unit on blogging. They will use their blogs during our student involved conferences. Love that it’s working for you!