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March 18, 2016

Student-Led Conferences

By John DePasquale
Grades 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

    Many schools and districts are moving beyond a traditional model of parent-teacher conferences by adding opportunities for students to take on an active and leading role in these meetings. My school has fully incorporated the student-led conference model over the past few years. This conference model effectively positions students as experts in their own learning, and highlights their voices and insights to drive a rich discussion.

    Student-led conferences, admittedly, take more time to prepare than traditional conferences. Although I’m constantly looking for time-saving ideas, I find the extra preparation time is well spent because student-led conferences are truly a meaningful addition to my practice. Many families with whom I work also embrace the shift towards student ownership of the conferences.

    As I work with students to prepare for our spring conferences, I would like to share with you ideas you can use with your students. In the fall, fellow blogger Kriscia Cabral shared similar ideas to prepare and apply student-led conferences, and I add to her amazing resources as the movement towards increasing student ownership of conferences grows.

     

    Be Prepared

    Proper preparation is essential for successful student-led conferences. I prepare students by guiding them through a reflection of their work before the conferences. Through this reflection, students identify their strengths, determine areas for growth, and set actionable goals. The students also select examples of their work from portfolios to use as evidence during the conference while they discuss their identified strengths and areas for growth. Preparing work samples to use during the conference is so important because it grounds the meeting in evidence and it provides all participants, especially the students, with a tangible and accurate representation of academic progress. Here is a sample of the reflection sheet I use with my students as they prepare for their student-led conferences.

    The reflection process begins with a review of our learning targets. Learning targets are statements written specifically for students in developmentally appropriate language that describe explicitly for them what they are learning. Students review a list of previously taught learning targets as they identify specific examples of the strengths and areas of improvements they will discuss during the conference. For more information, I recommend a beginner’s guide on learning targets developed by Expeditionary Learning. I like using the easily accessible language of learning targets as part of the reflection for student-led conferences because they are tools students can use to better internalize and articulate their actual learning process. This contributes ultimately to a rich and authentic student-led discussion during the conference.

    Once the students identify areas of improvement, they set actionable goals to strengthen those areas. I also encourage my students to think about support they might need from members of their families and their teachers to help them achieve their goals. For additional strategies on working with students to set goals, I recommend Genia Connell’s recent post "Setting (Almost) SMART Goals With My Students."

    With thoughtful reflections and meaningful goals in hand, the students are nearly ready to lead their conference — the only thing that remains is a good plan.

     

    Stick to a Plan

    Successful student-led conferences follow a basic, but important, protocol. I share a protocol for the meeting with students and their families before the conference to ensure our time together runs smoothly. Since some students bring with them a number of people invested in their learning to their conferences, it is important that there is time in the protocol devoted to the voices and concerns of all participants. Students truly lead the conference, but everyone involved actively participates.

    To encourage active participation, our conferences include these five steps:

    1. The student begins the conference with a brief welcome and introduction.

    2. The student shares work samples that highlight their strengths and any areas for future improvement. 

    3. Families then respond to the presentation to clarify or expand the student’s thinking about the specific strengths and areas of improvement that were discussed.

    4. All participants work together to establish goals and action steps to support the student in their future progress. 

    5. The final word of the conference is reserved for the student to respond to any ideas that were discussed during the meeting.

    Here’s a copy of the protocol I share with families before the student-led conferences. 

    Additional Resources

    Communicating accurate information about students to their families is one of our most important jobs as teachers. Since this role is nearly as old as the profession, there is luckily no shortage of resources available to teachers preparing for conferences with families. Here are just a few:

     

    Many schools and districts are moving beyond a traditional model of parent-teacher conferences by adding opportunities for students to take on an active and leading role in these meetings. My school has fully incorporated the student-led conference model over the past few years. This conference model effectively positions students as experts in their own learning, and highlights their voices and insights to drive a rich discussion.

    Student-led conferences, admittedly, take more time to prepare than traditional conferences. Although I’m constantly looking for time-saving ideas, I find the extra preparation time is well spent because student-led conferences are truly a meaningful addition to my practice. Many families with whom I work also embrace the shift towards student ownership of the conferences.

    As I work with students to prepare for our spring conferences, I would like to share with you ideas you can use with your students. In the fall, fellow blogger Kriscia Cabral shared similar ideas to prepare and apply student-led conferences, and I add to her amazing resources as the movement towards increasing student ownership of conferences grows.

     

    Be Prepared

    Proper preparation is essential for successful student-led conferences. I prepare students by guiding them through a reflection of their work before the conferences. Through this reflection, students identify their strengths, determine areas for growth, and set actionable goals. The students also select examples of their work from portfolios to use as evidence during the conference while they discuss their identified strengths and areas for growth. Preparing work samples to use during the conference is so important because it grounds the meeting in evidence and it provides all participants, especially the students, with a tangible and accurate representation of academic progress. Here is a sample of the reflection sheet I use with my students as they prepare for their student-led conferences.

    The reflection process begins with a review of our learning targets. Learning targets are statements written specifically for students in developmentally appropriate language that describe explicitly for them what they are learning. Students review a list of previously taught learning targets as they identify specific examples of the strengths and areas of improvements they will discuss during the conference. For more information, I recommend a beginner’s guide on learning targets developed by Expeditionary Learning. I like using the easily accessible language of learning targets as part of the reflection for student-led conferences because they are tools students can use to better internalize and articulate their actual learning process. This contributes ultimately to a rich and authentic student-led discussion during the conference.

    Once the students identify areas of improvement, they set actionable goals to strengthen those areas. I also encourage my students to think about support they might need from members of their families and their teachers to help them achieve their goals. For additional strategies on working with students to set goals, I recommend Genia Connell’s recent post "Setting (Almost) SMART Goals With My Students."

    With thoughtful reflections and meaningful goals in hand, the students are nearly ready to lead their conference — the only thing that remains is a good plan.

     

    Stick to a Plan

    Successful student-led conferences follow a basic, but important, protocol. I share a protocol for the meeting with students and their families before the conference to ensure our time together runs smoothly. Since some students bring with them a number of people invested in their learning to their conferences, it is important that there is time in the protocol devoted to the voices and concerns of all participants. Students truly lead the conference, but everyone involved actively participates.

    To encourage active participation, our conferences include these five steps:

    1. The student begins the conference with a brief welcome and introduction.

    2. The student shares work samples that highlight their strengths and any areas for future improvement. 

    3. Families then respond to the presentation to clarify or expand the student’s thinking about the specific strengths and areas of improvement that were discussed.

    4. All participants work together to establish goals and action steps to support the student in their future progress. 

    5. The final word of the conference is reserved for the student to respond to any ideas that were discussed during the meeting.

    Here’s a copy of the protocol I share with families before the student-led conferences. 

    Additional Resources

    Communicating accurate information about students to their families is one of our most important jobs as teachers. Since this role is nearly as old as the profession, there is luckily no shortage of resources available to teachers preparing for conferences with families. Here are just a few:

     

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