One of my biggest goals this year was to make my spring parent-teacher conferences student-led. While the traditional parent-teacher conference involves a lot of the teacher talking and the parent listening, student-led conferences have the students being the ones to show examples of their work, sharing areas of strength and laying out their goals for the rest of the year. The teacher’s role becomes more of a coach and guide. I had done a “trial run” of student-led conferences last year with several of my students, and the positive feedback I had gotten on those convinced me to take the leap with this year's class
Needless to say, the students were a little...nervous...when they were told that they would be leading their own conferences. Many of them were worried that they wouldn’t know what to say, or that they would rather have an adult tell them if they were doing “well” or “not.” I had anticipated these fears going in, and let them know that they would be ready by the time for their conferences came around.
First, I gave them a “script" that I adapted from Mary Wade’s fantastic blog at HonorsGradU. It provided them a framework for how their conference would go and what specifically they would be talking about. It also provided a checklist of sorts that have them an idea of what they should include in their digital portfolios.
This year, I was introduced to an app called Seesaw, and it has become an invaluable resource for maintaining a digital portfolio. Seesaw allows students to upload documents, images, links, and even voice and video recordings to their own personal folder. What makes Seesaw unique is that it has a companion app that enables parents to access and comment on their children's work. Using Seesaw, my students uploaded samples of their work, including writing, examples of math thinking and images from their science and social studies notebooks.
When conference time finally came around, I was very impressed with how the students presented themselves and their work. There were many honest discussions about what things they felt strong in and also things they needed to improve on. As we prepared, many students expressed concern about the dreaded “ride home,” where they would get the lecture about their performance and what their teacher said...but parents were very receptive and very proud not just of their students’ work, but also their ability to share it!
I’m looking forward to tweaking my system a bit next year...I would like the students to speak more about their reading data; things like their reading rates and accuracy and fluency. I think I would also like to prep my students more on knowing what points they want to get across, so they don’t ramble...on the first day of conferences I ran 30 minutes behind!
Overall, this has been a very positive change in my classroom. It sends the message that the students themselves can take charge of their learning, and that their education is not just something that happens to them. I’m already looking forward to next year’s conferences!
5th grade teacher in Princeton, NJ. Passionate about education, technology, and the New York Giants!