- I never understood why parent/teacher conferences were just for the parent and the teacher, when the student is doing all the work
- It's a time saver
- Most important: these conferences give the kids a chance to reflect on their work, celebrate, and set goals. In short, they are ownership of their education.
I first saw this approach in my daughter's sixth grade class (shout out to Mrs. Julie Zei: you are amazing!!) Mrs. Zei had the students collecting artifacts all throughout the year to share at both their spring and fall conferences. I thought I'd try the same thing, even though we only have conferences once a year in November. Starting small, I modified: the kids' literacy binder became a "Data and Goal Tracking Binder," with tabs in math and literacy for assessments, data, and goal setting. The students have all kinds of artifacts in it: math pre- and post-assessments, fact fluency data, reading pre- and -post-assessments, writing samples, this yearly reading goal sheet, this monthly reading log (not signed by parents, just for students to analyze things like stamina, genres, and reading pace), and this trimester book list.
Preparing for conferences comes in two parts. In part 1, the students reflect on their learning so far this year but filling out this student self-evaluation. They get their data binder off of the shelf and look for two artifacts: one that they are proud of because it shows how they've grown, and one that shows something they are currently working on. Each one gets tabbed with a sticky note so it's easy for the kids to find during the conference. They write a bit about each artifact - it's basically why they chose that artifact to share at the conference. Once those two pieces are found, the students set three goals for the remainder of 5th grade, and share how their parents and I can help them achieve those goals. The back side is a social-emotional reflection in a similar format: one thing they are doing well in school, and one thing they are working on. Filling out this reflection takes time (I usually set aside an hour) but the reflection you see your students doing is TOTALLY WORTH IT!
Part 2 of conference prep comes as a role play. We usually do this the day of, or the day before conferences. Students partner up and practice presenting their artifacts at their conference. I require that the student introduce me to their parents to kick off the conference, so we practice that as well. Before they partner up, I model being the student, and I ask for two volunteers, one to be the parent, and one to be me.They LOVE this. I run through the entire conference acting as the student, sharing my artifacts and why I chose them. Then, I release them to practice, circulating, listening, and offering feedback to the students. This part usually takes about 45 minutes, as I want each partner to practice several times. I would not recommend skipping this part, as it really cuts down on the students' anxiety at the actual conference.
The conference itself is really fun! I sometimes prompt students who are nervous or need a little support, but overall, they have been wonderful. The students really like being part of something that is usually a big secret (but shouldn't be), and the parents like seeing their kids step up and have some ownership over their education. The feedback I've gotten from parents and administration has been overwhelmingly positive, and I've found that the kids are so much more invested in their work because they've shared their goals publicly. An unexpected side benefit? I don't spend as much time preparing for conferences! Having my students lead their conferences has definitely been a risk worth taking.