Should conferences be short or long? Should the student be present? Should I show the parents artifacts from the student’s portfolio? What’s the best way to convey information to the parents about their son’s performance?
The focus must always be on the student. The conference is about the student’s learning and progress in the class. Why not have the student lead the conference? Who knows their work ethic better than the student himself? Who better to explain how he’s doing in the class than him?
We’ve been utilizing the Student Led Conference format in the sixth grade for the past four years. While this method has evolved over the years as we now use e-portfolios to collect student work, the nucleus has remained the same: the student owns his behavior and learning. He runs the conference, explaining his strengths and weaknesses. He shares his work with his parents and he fields their questions. It’s all about opening a dialogue between the student and his parents. As the teacher, I am there to support the student and to praise him for his effort and hard work. The student is able to answer most questions the parents throw out, but any questions he can’t answer, I address. I talk much less than the student as the focus is on him. Everything I do is about my students.
As we fine tune the Student Led Conference format, more grades are starting to conduct them as well. This year, we had the students create a page on their e-portfolio for each class, highlighting their strengths, areas of improvement, and a response to the midterm comment the teacher wrote. This helped focus the conference on where the student is currently and what he needs to do to improve, moving forward. Most parents had very few questions.
Over the years, we’ve collected data from our parents. Most of the families thoroughly enjoyed this conference format. Only one or two families each year report that they would have liked more one-on-one teacher time to ask questions. While we always leave time at the end of each conference for the parents to ask us any questions, they usually don’t. For most parents, this is a new format for conferences and it takes some time to get familiar with it. We couldn’t say anything more than what the student already states as the boys do a great job summarizing their performance in the classroom.
The Student Led Conference format is how all parent-teacher conferences should be conducted. The students need to own their learning and be able to talk to their parents about it. Communication is the key to building great relationships. Helping our students feel more confident in sharing their successes with their parents is one great tool we can equip our students with.