Saturday, 29 January 2011 17:45

Tip #20: Student-led Conferences (Part 1 of 3)

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Elementary and middle schools typically schedule parent conferences in November, or roughly a third of the way into each new school year.  I view these meetings as indispensable parts of the home-school connection, and I greatly value the quality time I can spend with each child and his or her family.  During the conferences we work as a team to discuss areas of strength, address areas of need, solve problems, and set goals for the future.  Because meeting individually with each family is so time-consuming for teachers, many schools do not schedule follow-up meetings later in the year to continue these conversations.  Student-led Conferences offer teachers a wonderful way to extend and strengthen the home-school connection because when compared to traditional Parent Conferences, they require only a fraction of the work and the time and provide students with an incredible opportunity to take responsibility for their own learning.

The Teaching Tips will focus on the topic of Student-led Conferences for the next three weeks.

Week 1: Introducing Student-led Conferences
Week 2: Preparing for Student-led Conferences
Week 3: Using Student-led Conferences to Feature Specific Habits of Mind and Habits of Character


 Introducing Student-led Conferences

Student-led Conferences offer kids meaningful opportunities to take ownership of their own learning.  These meetings work like traditional parent conferences except that the student assumes the role of teacher.  Because the kids have taken our place, we have no active involvement in these conferences.  We are not even there at the table watching; family members only.  Our job is to stay out of the way.  Don’t even walk around to take a peak.  Your presence may interrupt the flow of the meeting and take the spotlight off the student.  This is their moment.  Our role involves greeting families as they enter the room, thanking them for coming, and talking with them briefly when the conference concludes.

Because we’re not involved in these meetings, many can occur simultaneously.  Whereas a complete round of Parent Conferences can take a week or more to finish, an entire set of Student-led Conferences can be conducted in one day.  Pick one afternoon, and block off two to three hours, say from 3:30 to 6:30.  Because Parent Conferences typically occur one-third of the way into the school year, I like to schedule my Student-led Conferences in early March in order to give parents an opportunity see their children’s work roughly two-thirds of the way into the school year.

Send home a sign-up sheet asking parents to choose a half-hour time slot within this window.  At any given time, as long as there are enough tables in the room to accommodate each family, space will not be an issue.  Of course, some parents may need to reschedule for a different day due to work or other commitments.

Families first learn about Student-led Conferences early in the school year.  Inform parents by sending home a newsletter sometime in October or November.  Also at this time, introduce your kids to the concept of a Student-led Conference by explaining what they are, how they will work, and how they connect to the class mission.  Informing the students about these conferences well in advance will encourage them to take greater pride in their work because they know that they will ultimately be the ones sharing the work with their families.  In addition, the first round of parent conferences becomes more meaningful to the kids because it serves as a form of dress rehearsal for the Student-led Conferences.


More information about Student-led Conferences can be found in Eight Essentials for Empowered Teaching and Learning, K-8.

New Teaching Tips appear every Sunday of the school year.