Student-led Conferences in Four Easy Steps

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Open communication between school and home is essential to student learning. Traditionally, a parent-teacher conference is scheduled between report cards to provide parents with updates on their child’s progress. But the focus and the work is on the parents and the teacher. How do we shift the focus to the student?

One solution is student-led conferences, which enable students to take ownership of their learning experience. These four simple steps will help you plan your first student-led conference.

Step 1: Use assessments to set goals

Many school districts prescribe beginning-of-year tests, benchmark assessments, and end-of-the-year state tests to measure students’ progress and provide teachers with data about how to adjust instruction. This data can also help students set their own goals. Teachers meet with each student privately to review assessment scores. What else should teachers do? Encourage students to set reasonable goals in areas that need improvement. Let your students know that they will be sharing their goals, work, and progress with their parents during the student-led conference. No matter what their initial score, they can proudly show off their growth if they work hard.

Step 2: Determine conference format

In elementary classrooms students and parents might circulate around a reading station, a mathematics station, and stations devoted to other subjects. In middle school and high school, students might share a portfolio consisting of exams, projects, essays, and so on. Consider how many and what type of assignments will communicate what your student has learned.

Step 3: Have students prepare materials

Provide students with a checklist of what is required in each folder. Student portfolios may require a conference agenda, the original student-teacher goal sheet, 2 math assignments, 2 writing samples, 1 science lab, 1 social studies map, and a student-parent goal-setting sheet. Avoid making too many handouts and selecting too many assignments. Patti Kinney, of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, provides a guide to implementing student-led conferences, which includes the varying effectiveness of student work. Try to focus on a small selection that highlights student learning in your class.

Step 4: Set up self-evaluations

During the conference, the student presents a portfolio of work and explains to the parent what she did well and what areas still need work. It might be helpful to provide a student questionnaire or an exit ticket that challenges students to set a new goal for growth. You may provide a prompt, such as the following: “This is what I will do to be more successful in math class.” Allow the student and parent to sign the statement before leaving the conference.

One potential disadvantage to student-led conferences is that parents sometimes feel they need more teacher input. You can avoid that pitfall by walking around the room, listening to the conversations, and occasionally adding information or observations.

Do you have experience with student-led conferences? Please share in the comment section below.

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About Author

Ada Lopez

Ada Lopez develops science resources for Curriculum Pathways. She recently earned The National Braille Press Hands on Award for co-authoring Reach for the Stars: Touch, Look, Listen, Learn. Ada’s goal is to help improve children’s lives. Her inspiration to develop technologies that enhance teaching and learning comes from her years in the classroom. Ada taught high school biology in South Florida and middle school science in North Carolina.

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