At my school, we hold student-led conferences, in which, the students invite their parents to view their portfolio and discuss their progress in school. I have never heard of student-led conferences before and imagined something a little different. What I want to do in this post is describe how our conferences were conducted and discuss how I think a few minor changes could improve their effectiveness.
First, our students are provided a binder with their name on the spine and dividers within. Each teacher is to provide direction on what should be included under their content area’s section. Now, I have no clue what the other members of my team had their students include or how they went about that process, but I asked each of my kids to include four pieces of poetry from their poetry portfolios that we had just finished. I gave each kid ten different reflection slips they could fill out and staple to the top of the pieces they chose. My only input on this was that they needed to include at least one piece that had a rough draft and a final draft with visible revisions, the other three pieces were their choice.
I really liked the pieces that my students chose and their reasons for choosing those pieces. I was quite impressed by their reflection and how in-depth they went both in the reflections and the poems. The only think I will change for next year will have to do with the poetry portfolio, not the reflections and decision-making process.
On the nights of conferences, we opened up the divider between two classrooms and set up the desks into four seat pods. The students would then grab their binder and take their parent/guardian to a pod and discuss each section of the conference binder. What was supposed to happen was that the students would discuss each portion of the binder, and the parents would then ask questions if there was a pressing concern. Otherwise, the student was supposed to be the leader of the conference process and once they were finished, they would leave.
This is what really happened: the student retrieved his/her binder and took their parents to a pod. They would discuss briefly the binder and its contents. Then the parents would wait until every teacher made his/her way to their pod to discuss that student. So, with maybe ten-ish pods full at the busiest times, each teacher was trying to make his/her way to all parents and discuss the student. Imagine how long that took… and guess what? Most of the parents would wait, and wait, and wait for you. *sigh* It was a long night.
SO, how do I think we could improve student-led conferences? Well, for one, I think the students need to have a script or schedule of items they should discuss with their parents. I think that many of them showed their work and then MAYBE talked a little about it, but that was about it. These kids can’t remember what they need to say or how to say it. So what if this is their second or third year of doing this… they just can’t remember. Maybe even have a little diddy on the cover of the binder about how a student-led conference should flow?
Second, I think that the student should have the choice in what is included in their binders with minor coaching from the teacher. Maybe a few requirements, such as your favorite piece or the work you improved the most on, etc. Like I said before, I don’t know what the other teachers required of their students, but I know it helped my students focus on why they chose what they chose.
Third, I think that each student should have included a SMART goal or something that they could work on academically to improve. Then, each teacher should reflect on that goal and describe what we will do to help the student reach that goal… and most importantly… actually follow-up. After the student and teacher have fulfilled their portion of the goal section, the parent should discuss how he/she will help the student reach their goal.
Anyways, these are my thoughts… for what they are worth. I enjoyed meeting the parents of my student and seeing how they behave in front of adults they are most comfortable with. It was very enlightening! 🙂