Ready to give student led conferences a try? By shifting the responsibility of explaining grades and progress to the learners, student led conferences can be more enjoyable than traditional conferences.
What are student led conferences?
During student led conferences the students are taking the lead. Parents will listen and ask questions as students present samples of their work and discuss their progress in class.
Depending on the time allowed for conferences, students might show parents skills they’ve learned through centers or a portfolio of their work. Jane Fung shares on the Teaching Channel website how she uses stations for students to show off what they know. Each student spends about 5 minutes across 4 centers while parents observe their child completing the activities.
Student led conferences can also be held as a conversation between the student and their family with the teacher as a facilitator. This is my preferred way to hold conferences.
Step 1 - Communicate With Parents
Most parents will most likely not have experienced student led conferences before. It’s important to let parents know well before conference time what to expect. This may mean a short letter home explaining how you will be running conferences and what it will look like when they attend their conference time.
If possible, you may wish to offer a traditional conference for parents that have some resistance to the idea of student led conferencing. I like to reserve time at the end of the conference for parents to ask me questions.
Step 2 - Plan Out Your Conference Template
INext, decide how you will plan out each 15-20 minute conference slot. For student led conferences, twenty minutes is ideal. Students may be nervous presenting for their parents and the extra five minutes will be needed!
I like to start each conference by having students share about their self-reflection. This is completed a week or two before conferences. Because I was teaching second grade, students chose the correct smiley face to share how they felt towards the statement.
After students share, I show parents my teacher reflection on their student. This has most of the same questions but shares my viewpoint of how their child is in my class. Many parents appreciate seeing how we agree or disagree. Often, students are harsher on themselves than I am and I feel it’s important for parents to see this. Plus, many parents are eager to hear from you and your perspective and this is an excellent (and quick) way to do so.
Next I have students share their strengths. Again, students will prepare this before their conference. Here students will reflect on how they are doing across the core subjects by putting what they are doing well. I also like students to find a work sample for each subject.
Last, students will share their goals within each subject. I also provide space for parents to write a goal with their student.
Step 3 - Provide Class Time to Prepare and Practice
I have found that student led conferences are most successful when I have time to sit down individually with each student and talk about their upcoming conference. I like to give out the student reflection pages for the whole class but the other pages need to be completed individually.
Generally students only need about 5 minutes with me to discuss their strengths and goals. As we set student learning goals in reading and writing throughout the year, they will use these for their goal sheets. To set the math goal they can either use where they are at for their addition and subtraction fact fluency, or use the current math topic.
To organize conference materials, I provide each student with a manila file folder. You may also wish to use a large envelope. In the weeks leading up to conference time I place the folders in a basket at my small group area.
Each student's set of papers are placed into the folders and handed to students as we need them. This way papers don’t go missing inside desks or accidentally taken home. When students find a work sample they wish to use, it is also placed inside the folder.
Step 4 - Schedule Conference and Check Folders
Once conferences are scheduled (I love using Sign Up Genius for this. You can read all about how I schedule using this free website on this blog post.) I place the student file folders in order of their conference day and times. This makes it very easy to pull out the right folder when a parent comes to my door.
On conference nights I also make sure to have a sign to post on my door notifying parents that I have a conference in progress so we are not interrupted. I also post the times of each conference with student first names on my door. Parents can then check for their time in case they’ve shown up late (or early).
Step 5 - Watch Your Students Shine
This is perhaps the hardest part of student led conferences. It’s time to sit back and let your students take charge of the conference. If needed, you may want to have a script or checklist for your learners to follow. Sometimes those nerves make it easy to forget what to do - even with lots of practice time!
Don’t be afraid to step in and help guide the conversation. This may be necessary if the conference is in danger of running over and another parent is waiting.
Once you get the hang of student led conferences, you may never want to switch back to traditional ones!