Here's my Top 10 List (in no particular order) of what Student Led Conferences have taught me:
1) Regardless of age, students can share what they're learning in class. They can show and tell their parents about what they do at school every day, and they can highlight some of their favourite activities too.
2) Students can set their own goals. In preparation for the conference, I had all of my students pick two of their favourite blog posts. They needed to write about what they liked most about these two posts, and what they would add or change the next time. I was so impressed! The students were very reflective, and they even set their own writing goals based on these posts. Some students feel like they need to concentrate on conventions, while other students want to concentrate on generating more ideas. All students now have a focus for their writing.
3) Students and parents both need talking time. Students wanted to talk about what they're doing and learning in class, but parents also wanted to talk and ask some questions about their children too. I completely understand the need for both. I think that a small interview component of these conferences is important, and I'm glad that we were able to balance student talking time and parent talking time.
4) Fifteen minutes is not long enough for this conference format. I set each time slot for 15 minutes, and I was pretty good at sticking to this time limit too, but it was a challenge. There isn't enough time for students to show everything, talk about what they want, and answer questions all in 15 minutes. Next year, I definitely need to give more time.
5) Student led conferences could be done in larger groups. After I got home from my "marathon conference night" on Thursday (15 conferences back-to-back), I tweeted about my timing concerns. Both Angie Harrison (@techieang) and Heather Jelley (@team_jellybean) shared that they do multiple conferences at the same time. Angie mentioned that she sets her conferences for 30 minutes, but staggers how many students attend based on student needs. I like this differentiated approach. Heather teaches Kindergarten, and she said that she does two conferences at a time. This seems very doable too. I would need a slightly different set-up than this year, but I think this is definitely worth exploring for next year.
6) Sometimes there also needs to be an interview. I speak to the parents in my class regularly -- once a week or once every couple of weeks -- so there were no surprises on the progress reports. I think that this is important. If a student is struggling, I also think that I need more time to sit down and talk to the parents about what we can do. Student led conferences are fantastic, but sometimes interviews are needed as well, and that's okay. There's no reason that we can't do both. Angie Harrison (@techieang) has tweeted about this before too, and I love how she schedules interviews in advance of the student led conferences if they are necessary.
7) Put out centres. Have different activities or tools on different tables, and even have signs with them that have some guiding questions for both the student and the parent. Try to balance literacy and math activities, so that the parents get a good understanding of everything that's happening in the classroom. On the signs, be explicit about the expectations met at these different centres and when using these different tools. My students know this information, but when they shared different activities with their parents, they weren't always explicit about the purpose of the activity. Before the Thursday conferences, the class made a list of 23 different things they could show their parents in the classroom. They were able to identify the tool (e.g., an iPad) versus the activity (e.g., using Word Wizard for making words), but we didn't identify the subject area on this list. This is definitely something to do differently for next year.
8) Incorporate student choice. Given time restrictions, students probably aren't going to be able to show their parents everything, so let them choose what they'd like to show. That being said, maybe have students show at least one literacy activity and one math activity. Most of my students did this, but not all of them. Having this requirement in place will ensure that parents get some variety in what they see.
9) Have something for parents to bring home at the end of the conference. I put together a collection of work that parents could bring home with them. They can then look at this work with their child and discuss some more goals for the rest of the year. Including a list of some guiding questions with this package of work would have probably been a good idea, as then the parents and the students can get the most out of it.
10) Incorporate an opportunity for feedback. I think that it's always good to hear positive feedback about the experience, as well as any suggested changes too. Much of what I have on this list here comes out of the feedback that parents and students contributed on this Lino Wall:
Thank you to everyone that helped me reflect on this process and think of ways that I can make the student led conferences even better for next year.
For those of you that do student led conferences, what have you learned from these experiences? What do you like about the format, and what would you change about it? For parents and students that have been part of the process, is there anything else that you would include on this list of mine? I would love to hear your ideas!