When I was a student, I hated talking about my progress and work in the classroom.
“How was school today?” my mom would frequently ask.
“Fine,” I responded.
“What did you learn today?” my mom would often follow up with.
“Stuff,” I said.
“How are you doing in school?” my grandmother would ask.
“Good,” would be my response.
I didn’t like talking about myself as a student and learner because I had no practice doing it. In school, teacher-parent conferences were led solely by my teachers. They told my parents how I was doing and what I needed to work on. No questions were directed at me and I wasn’t expected to say a thing, if I was even in attendance at the conference. Usually, the conferences were for the parents and teachers only. Therefore, I never needed to know how to own my learning and be self-aware of my progress in the classroom. I knew that no one would ever ask me what I needed to do to improve in school, and so I never really reflected on my academics. I never really knew how I was doing other than what I gleaned from my report cards, which was very little. In retrospect, I wish I had been provided the opportunity to show more ownership in school. I wish my teachers had taught me how to discuss my academic progress in a meaningful and relevant way. I wish my teachers had helped me learn to reflect on my work and progress in the classroom. I wish I had been more self-aware of my learning. I wonder how much more I would have challenged myself had I known of my true potential as a student. I wonder what I might have become had I been more committed to growing and developing as I am now as an educator. I wonder what amazing accomplishments I might have been able to add to my resume had I been more invested in my learning journey.
As a teacher, I don’t want my students to ever feel like I did and do about my experience in school. I want my students to know exactly what they need to do to improve and grow as a student, thinker, and individual. I want them to own their learning and be self-aware. I want them to set meaningful goals that they will work towards over the course of the year. I want them to see school and learning as an adventure and journey, and not something they have to do. I accomplish these goals for my students in several ways:
- Make learning fun and engaging. The students complete meaningful projects and activities that allow them to apply the learning in creative and unique ways so as to provide the students with choice.
- Teach the students how to reflect and the power that it holds. I have them reflect in writing and orally on their work and progress in the classroom. They also create and maintain an ePortfolio that documents their progress throughout the year in the sixth grade. They respond to reflection questions and own their work.
- I provide the students with feedback on an almost daily basis. I explain to them, individually, how they are working and progressing towards meeting the objectives or expectations.
These various tools and teaching practices help the students learn how to be independent and self-aware learners on a journey of self-discovery and learning. It’s amazing how well my students know themselves as readers, writers, problem solvers, critical thinkers, and people. Twice a year, the students have the opportunity to put all of these pieces of the ownership and reflection puzzle together in the form of student-led conferences.
My co-teacher and I utilize the student-led conference format, in the sixth grade, in place of the typical parent-teacher conference method that many schools use. The students talk to their parents about their learning and progress in their classes using their ePortfolio as a guide. They run the show and their parents ask them questions that they field. Instead of us, the teachers, telling the student and parents how their son is doing in class, the students take ownership of their learning and talk about the progress they are making in the sixth grade.
As we know that our students are very self-aware of their academic progress, it’s only fitting that they should be the ones to talk about it. Sure, my co-teacher and I could tell the parents how their child is doing, but in our eyes, these conferences are an opportunity for the students to shine in front of their parents. At a boarding school, many of the students are only able to see their families during these special Parents’ Weekends, which only happen twice during the academic year. These weekends should be filled with joy and celebration. The students are doing amazing things and their parents should be able to see and hear all about it. For us in the sixth grade, having the students share their remarkable progress and success in the classroom with their parents is so much more meaningful and tangible. The families are able to see, first hand, how much their sons have changed and developed as they participate in the student-led conference.
This weekend marked our first Parents’ Weekend. The students, over the course of Friday and Saturday, completed their student-led conference in our classroom with their families. The boys totally rocked their conferences. They demonstrated how much they truly know themselves as students and own their learning, for their parents. It was great. My co-teacher and I are so proud of our boys and how hard they have worked over the first half of the fall term as well as this weekend. Their performances during their conferences were amazing. One student even answered the 75 questions his aunt asked, flawlessly and even better that we could have responded as his teachers. He promoted our awesome program as though he was leading an infomercial on the sixth grade at Cardigan. Wow! was just about all we could say.
The other students also had great conversations and discussions with their parents on their progress in the sixth grade. The families had very few questions at the end for my co-teacher and I because their son explained everything so brilliantly. It was amazing to watch our students conduct themselves with poise and maturity. They spoke about their strengths and accomplishments as well as their weaknesses. They also explained the goals they have set for themselves to improve upon their grades for the close of the fall term in a few weeks. The students showed their parents how phenomenal they are as learners and individuals. Many of the families were completely blown away by how self-aware their sons have become about their academic progress. Being a part of these student-led conferences for us as the teachers was very much like watching a beautifully executed ballet. We applauded, with our words, at the close of each movement, or in this case conference, and remained silently amazed as the students danced their way through their academic journey during the first half of the fall term in the sixth grade. We said very little, as should be the case with this format for parent conferences. The boys opened a dialogue between them and their parents. The student-led conferences helped to create a bridge the families can use to discuss school and learning with their sons in the future so that our students never feel like I did as a student.
Here are some excerpts from the reflections the students shared with their families during their student-led conferences.
“For the most part I think I am trying my hardest in all of my classes. I think on my good days my effort would be a 5 to a 4. But on my not so good days probably a 4 to a 3. I think I have used a growth mindset by not giving up and always striving to improve my skills. For example when I was doing the math test I made sure that I did all the problems instead of just skipping over them. I think I need to work on being more focused in class so I can understand more. For example when instructions are being told I should especially listen. I also think I need to work on not talking in class when the time is not appropriate. For example when there is a transition from classes I will only talk out in the hall. My goals for the second half of this term is to get at least effort honor. I hope to reach this goal by trying extra hard and really reaching for a 5 effort grade.”
“I think I am improving and my grade is going higher and higher. It is because since I move to this school I started to do more reading than I did before and I can choose a book that is fun to read, also I learn more English words from my teachers and my friends. I think my reading skills are more fluent than when I began school. Firstly, I am able to read through a sentence without having to reread it again and again until I get it. Secondly, I am able to understand what I am reading. I think can do better by working on my speed. Personally, I think I have improved in my writing skills too! I am able to write very attractive summary and write details. However, I still can improve by writing carefully. Finally, my discussions skill are okay I will say. It is because some of my facts are based on nothing. I need a fact to support my main idea. I need to gather information from my classmates and teachers.”
“I am doing decent in math class so far. I do my homework and turn it in on time but I still usually get checks. Every once and awhile I tend to rush through my homework so it is messy the problems can be wrong. I understand the material and do all of my homework but two things I can improve on is checking my homework better, moving a bit slower and asking for extra help so I can always get check pluses on my homework. Another thing I can work on is trying harder. When I rush I don’t try as hard. I think that I am using a growth mindset when I don’t understand a material. For example, I don’t know LCM or GCF that well but I tried my best to figure it out. the only thing that I didn’t do is ask for help even though I didn’t know the material. I did the LCM and GCM assignments but one thing I could improve on is asking for extra help on a materiel I need help with or don’t know. This is what I can do to ensure I am using a growth mindset in math class. One thing I can do to understand all math topics is ask for extra help in study hall or in between classes. Other things I can do is retake a test if I get a bad grade, keep using a growth mindset, listening well in class, and not writing I don’t know for the do nows or homework. My short term goals are to get better grades, get check pluses on my homework, and ask for extra help on materials I don’t know.”
“I work well with others on group tasks. Like I was always talk to my group, give them my idea. And always show leadership in the group. I’ve been able talk my idea clearly and help other learning. And they always make my idea be better and better. I like it. That was fun. When I solve some problems, I enjoy that. And feel good for that. I use my idea to solve the problems.I think I was good at listen, I use that to solve problems. In science, I need to learn more word about science, I was good at the experiment. I always enjoy all the homework in the science class. I think I did a really good job in the improve science word. I feel the plan was really work. The thing I need to improve my word: Make a word book with the Chinese. Be able to ask more question. That will be work.”