Wednesday, 09 February 2011 17:45

Tip #22: Student-led Conferences (Part 3 of 3)

Written by

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

Using Student-led Conferences to Feature Specific Habits of Mind and Habits of Character

A more advanced form of Student-led Conferencing shines a spotlight directly on two important sets of ideas that I refer to as Habits of Mind and Habits of Character.  13 Habits of Character and 9 Habits of Mind comprise the foundation of everything that occurs in my classroom.  I strongly believe that an integral part of my job involves helping students become better people and better thinkers, and these habits help me do just that.  The Habits of Character focus on specific work habits, social skills, and attitudes.  The Habits of Mind focus on specific ways of thinking and ways of acting.  I try to build these habits into the fabric of my students’ daily experience in a variety of ways.  Featuring these two sets of habits in our annual Student-led Conferences is an important part of this effort.  

For approximately the last four years I have used the Habits of Character and Habits of Mind to structure our Student-led Conferences because the meetings offer a wonderful opportunity to reinforce these valuable ideas.  The steps that my students follow to prepare for these conferences are similar to those I described last week, except that this approach puts the habits front and center.

I wish I could shine a spotlight on all the habits during the Student-led Conferences, but there are simply too many.  From the 13 Habits of Character (Cooperation, Courage, Fairness, Honesty, Kindness, Patience, Perserverance, Pride, Positive Attitude, Respect, Responsibility, Self-Discipline, and Service), I choose to focus on six.  From the 9 Habits of Mind (Bias, Connections, Craftsmanship, Evidence, Judgment, Openness, Relevance, Thoughtfulness, Viewpoint), I choose three.  Thus, our conferences focus on nine habits in all.  Feel free to increase or decrease this number based on the age and readiness of your students.

The preparation process begins when I distribute a list of the nine habits to my students.  I then explain that everyone will build their portfolios by choosing one piece of work that best represents each habit.  This is a higher-level thinking challenge that requires evaluation, judgment, and a solid understanding of what each habit means.

Here is a numbered list of the nine habits my students and I focused on last year.

Habits of Character
1) Courage
2) Perseverance
3) Pride
4) Positive Attitude
5) Responsibility
6) Self-discipline

Habits of Mind
7) Craftsmanship
8) Judgment
9) Thoughtfulness

To help guide the students in their selections, I distribute a second sheet listing the major projects and activities that occurred during the preceding few months.  This sheet, with the projects organized by subject area or some other guiding idea, reminds me of the song list of a greatest hits album because it includes only the best and most important things we have done since Parent Conferences in November.  

To make their selections, students write down the number of the habit from their numbered lists on a blank line to the left of each desired item on their project lists.

Once these decisions are made, we then proceed through the same steps I described last week, 1) placing the work inside the portfolios and 2) completing the Student-led Conference Outline Sheet.  As a final preparation step, I ask the kids to reflect on and describe the rationale for each of their nine choices.  Specifically, using simple reflection strips, students explain how a given piece of work exemplifies the habit to which they matched it.  We clip these strips to the work samples so parents can see them during the conferences.  Reflecting on their choices in this manner promotes thoughtfulness and judgment and also reinforces the meaning of each habit.  

At the Student-led Conferences students and their families have quite a bit to discuss.  Not only are the participants discussing the work itself, but also they are talking about the various habits and how the different pieces of work bring these habits to life. 

More information about Student-led Conferences, including examples of the forms I described, can be found in Eight Essentials for Empowered Teaching and Learning, K-8.

New Teaching Tips appear every Sunday of the school year.