On the morning of Monday, February 4th, I had many reasons to be excited. The New Englander in me was thrilled because the Patriots won the Super Bowl the night before! The late sleeper in me was happy because our school district had scheduled a non-student day, so Parent-Teacher Conferences could begin at 12:00 pm, thus allowing me a little extra sleep. Lastly, the teacher in me was pumped because I was trying something new at school: Student Led Conferences.
For years, I have been finding excuses to NOT go through with my goal of student-led conferences: not enough time to prepare, what if the students say something unexpected, excuses, excuses, excuses. Finally, this year I had two things push me to try out this effective practice.
First, my son, who is four, has been a part of student-led conferences for two years. That’s right, my three year-old was in charge of his conference last year. In his Montessori school on conference day, which he is ALWAYS excited about, my husband and I go into his classroom. There, he has two different “works” prepared, and he walks us through the tasks demonstrating his learning. We are not even allowed to ask the teacher questions. It is all run by the little people.
The last, and most important push, occurred when one of my colleagues, who teaches kindergarten, came in to talk about my son’s student-led conference to gain ideas for her students. Since she was taking it on, I was ready to take it on. In the end, there were four us from kindergarten, first, third, and my fifth grade classroom that decided to try out this process. I love collaborating with my colleagues because that is when I do my best work and trying out student-led conferences was no different.
So, what did I do, and how did this look?
1. Reflect: In the weeks leading up to the conference, I led my whole class through a reflection activity. First, we looked at the “Social Emotional Skills” that are on the front of our report card. This year, our district replaced “Work Habits” with Social Emotional (SE) Skills because they recognized the importance of a student’s SE progress in addition to their academic progress. However, these skills can be hard for a student to understand. To help it make more sense for my students, with a copy in front of them, I read through each skill and talked about what it looked like in the classroom if that skill was a strength, something they were developing, or a concern. The students scored themselves on each skill. We followed a similar process with our MAP scores–looking at the fall and winter scores and reflecting on growth. They also thought about the goal they had set back in September and whether or not it needed to be updated. Lastly, we brainstormed a list of different projects and work they had completed, and they decided on something they were most proud of thus far.
2. Practice: I prepared a “script” to help my students use the reflection page above as talking points with their families. I had each student come and practice with me what they would say at the conference. If they had given themselves a score of “developing” in any SE category, they had to explain why and what they were doing to turn it into a strength.
3. Present: On conference day, the student and the family came into the conference, and the student took the lead—using the script to go through all the components of the reflection page: Social Emotional Skills, MAP scores, goals, and areas of pride.
At the end of the day (and let’s face it, conference day can be long and tiring!), I was really happy. Tired, but happy.
All of my families that had signed up for a conference brought their child.
Every child spoke so eloquently about their progress.
Most importantly, I believe all of them have a better understanding of who they are as learners.
The process of reflecting on their Social Emotional Skills, as well as their academic progress, gave my students an opportunity to connect their actions to outcomes. As I closed out the conference day, I thought about how excited I am to try this again, and what I would do differently to make the process even more beneficial. I am so thankful that I have my colleagues to collaborate with as we try to grow in the area of student-led conferences.
After all, helping our students communicate what they know and who they are as learners is far more important than me being able to do that for them. They leave me come June, but hopefully the skill of communicating far outlasts their time in my room.