Student-Led Conferences

Parent conferences can be stressful for teachers, parents, and students. The purpose of a conference is to discuss student learning, but planning and organizing conferences can be time-consuming. What if I told you that I found a system that works? 

I realized that students should take part in the conference. So, I changed the way I conducted conferences. Now, my students attend the fall conference, share and reflect on a few pieces of work, and set goals with parent and teacher input.  Our spring conferences are completely led by students. Each student shares his/her portfolio of work with parents and/or guardians. It is the BEST!

Planning
I start getting ready for conferences in September. Each student brings in a folder to hold portfolio work. The folder is used to keep work that will be included in the end of year portfolio. I also begin having students reflect on work as soon as the school year starts. This is helpful because I want them to reflect on the work as it is happening rather than trying to remember the circumstances many months later.

The fall conference is scheduled in the middle of our first trimester. About a week before the fall conference each student picks two pieces of work to share and completes reflection sheets if they haven't been completed already.  The reflection sheets require students to think critically about the piece of work.  I encourage my students to choose work they are proud of and work that they wish they could do over and improve. I pair students up to practice sharing work. The goal is for the student to talk about the work without having to read the reflection word for word. Practice makes all the difference!

Students also reflect on the start of the school year. They write about things that are going well and highlight something that makes them feel proud. Students also write about any challenges they have faced and list some goals that they would like to meet. 
This becomes one piece that each student will share during the conference. You can grab a copy of the reflection sheet below.

Fall Conference
Each conference begins the same way. I address parental questions and/or concerns from the pre-conference questionnaire. Next, the student will share his/her work and the self-reflection. Then, I give an overview of student progress and address any concerns. The last part of the conference is a goal-setting conversation. The parents, student, and I review goals set at the beginning of the year and look at the list of new goals that the student wrote. We decide whether to keep current goals in place or set new goals for the remainder of the term. I fill in the goal information on a conference form and either print or email a copy to the parents.
Each conference last about 20 minutes, but could be longer if time allowed. Parent feedback is always positive and they love listening to their child share work.

Spring Conference
Students collect and reflect on work throughout the remainder of the year. I also take a lot of pictures in the classroom, at special classes (art, music, technology, physical education, etc.), field trips, and recess. Students love to include photos in their portfolios.  

The spring conference is very different from the fall conference. Each student prepares his/her portfolio to be shared. They practice with peers to make sure that they know what they are going to say.
There are many ways to organize the spring conference, but I sign up to use our school cafeteria for the last hour of the day. Then we send out an invitation to families. It isn't as confusing as what you are probably picturing in your mind. Here's how it works:
  • Two students sit at each of the cafeteria tables. If your cafeteria is bigger than mine you might be able to do one student per table. 
  • I place a list of steps for the conference on the table to help each student remember what to do. I also purchase small bottles of water and set them on an empty table in case any of the participants get thirsty.  
  • Family members join their children at each table. 
  • Each student presents his/her portfolio to their family at the same time. The tables are big enough that having two presentations at the same time is not a problem.
  • I float around the cafeteria taking pictures and observing the process. If a student raises his/her hand I will head to the table to answer a question or concern. This does not happen often.  
When I first started this process each student had a three-ring binder. We placed work samples and reflections in sheet protectors and placed them in the binders. This worked out well, but now that I have embraced Google Classroom and digital learning my students keep digital portfolios
How do you structure your parent conferences? I would love to hear about it! Don't forget to grab your student reflection forms!

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