Saturday, November 9, 2013

Student-Led Conferences

I woke up this morning with a sense of relief, accomplishment, and pride.  My fall parent conferences are finished!  Well, almost finished.  I still have three to go that needed to be rescheduled.  Like last year, I chose to have my students lead the conferences this week.

How I set it up:

A month before conferences, I set-up this Google doc asking parents to sign-up for a 30 minute time slot.  Most parents signed up within the first week.  All were signed-up with a few reminders within a week of the conferences.

Then, I discussed goal setting with my students.  Over the next couple weeks, they each set at least two measurable goals before the conference with the understanding that our goal setting sheet is a living document.  So, students know that they can add new goals and check-off goals as they are reached.  One problem with goal setting is that it's often not revisited.  My goal as a teacher is to revisit these goals as a whole class at least once a week.  Some of my students' individual goals included:
  • Independently read two novels before winter break.
  • Practice memorizing multiplication and division facts for five minutes three times each week.
  • Work on my Genius Project not only at school, but also for 30 minutes each week at home.
  • Independently write a piece of fiction on my own.  I tend to stick with nonfiction, so I want to finish a fiction piece this year.
  • When I get angry, use strategies I know to cool down instead of yelling.
Then, a week before conferences, my students gathered all of their work from the year thus far.  They then had to prepare for a conversation with their parents and me about what they are proud of and what they still need to work on in the areas of reading, writing workshop, and math.  Many students also chose to discuss social studies, science, and their Genius Projects.  All students spent an hour in class gathering their work evidence and preparing their discussion notes.  

Then, our two days of conferences arrived!  My principal gave up her office during those two days so I could have a private room for the meetings.  Each student came to the office for his/her scheduled time.  Students sat down with their parents and me, prepared their notes, laid out their work evidence, and started talking!  Some were very nervous, some were confident and went through the process with ease, some were overly prepared, while others forgot to bring in a few things.  

One student's work evidence and conferences notes
set-out for her student-led conference this past week.
After each student discussed his/her work samples and goals and went back to class, I was able to have a 5-10 minute chat with the parents.  Most parents felt their child said everything that needed to be said.  I really didn't have to say much at all!  At this age, kids must start taking responsibility for everything that happens in school.  Holding conferences such as these makes students more accountable.  Of the 21 parents I met with so far, 20 expressed how much they enjoyed the process.  Many parents even said that they had never seen their child so confident, independent, and grown-up.  Only one parent asked to meet with me separately.  During this process, parents were able to see their kids shine and see where their kids need to improve.  The powerful thing is that it all came from their kids rather than from me, which makes the message both more meaningful and powerful.  

My last conference on Wednesday ended with a hug from a parent.  This was a first.  After my student finished talking, she went outside to let me talk with her parents for a few minutes.  I talked about how I felt their daughter said it all.  I reiterated that she is thriving in reading and writing, has tons of friends in class, and while she needs a lot of extra work in math, she is finding confidence in that area.   My student's mother stood up, thanked me for helping her daughter gain independence and find confidence, and went to shake my hand.  Before I knew it, she said, "No. Give me a hug!  Thank you so much for helping my daughter!"  That says it all.

My fall parent/teacher conferences will always be student-led.  

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