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What Student Led Conferences Taught Me!

November 19, 2011

On Monday, I started a week of Student Led Conferences as a follow-up to our progress reports. This is my second year doing Student Led Conferences instead of the traditional interview, and looking back on the process, I’ve learned a lot.

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!

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  1. Ms. L and Division 16 permalink

    I have held student led conferences for the past several years and I have always enjoyed them. I no longer schedule individual times at all but have an open block of time so families can come and go as they please. Some families stay for fifteen minutes while others are there for over an hour. The feedback I've received has always been positive. My families are required to complete a feedback form too which includes positive things that surprised them about their child, and things they would like to see their child work on. While there may be multiple families in the room at the same time everyone seems so engrossed in their own child's work one on one conferences can still take place as needed. When more private conferences are required, those are arranged as well.
    Ms. Lirenman

  2. Thanks for the comment! I've never heard of this open concept student led conference before, but I do like what it allows. You really have me thinking here. Thanks for sharing what you do!


  3. Thanks Aviva for your post. You have touched on all the important ideas with student led conferencing. @techieAng and @teamjelleybean have also helped me with student led conferences. I only do 1 at a time with gr. 1 but would like to try 2. I agree that all students can create goals. We post our goals and plans on our goal wall so we don't forget what we said we would work on. I like your idea of feedback from parents. I will collect some from parents this week after our our conferences this week. Your post will help others see how valuable student led conferencing is for everyone and how simply it can be done. Thanks!

  4. Thanks Karen! I hope that yours go well this week. It's interesting to see how other people are running Student Led Conferences in their classrooms.


  5. Aviva,
    Thank you! All children are able to discuss what is important to their learning and we need to honor them as they grow in the process.
    At a learning conference I attended last Thursday we talked about displaying all phases of student work and not just the final product. I think this is another piece of the puzzle we call learning.
    Conferences like yours also strengthen the parent, student, teacher relationship and helps parents better understand how their child learns.
    Have a terrific week!

  6. Thanks for your comment, JoAnn! I completely agree with you about showing all parts of the work process too, and not just the final product. I tried to do that this year as well, and it worked out really well. I will definitely be doing this again!

    Have a great week too!

  7. Lesley permalink

    Hi! So interesting to read your list on Student Led Conferences. I have been doing them for years at the same school and we give each family 1 hour for each conference and have approximately 4 conferences happening simultaneously. I find that the children are more willing to talk uninhibited when there is a nice buzz around the room.
    My questions now have to do with Student Led Conferences in the Early Years. I recently moved from Kg to PreK and have been searching for information on what other PreK teachers do. I think the format could be different…
    Thanks for a thought provoking article!

  8. Thanks for the comment, Lesley! I love hearing about how you've run Student Led Conferences in the past. It makes sense that students feel more comfortable talking when there is a bit of a buzz in the room. In terms of Pre-K Conferences, you might want to touch base with @team_jellybean. She teaches Kindergarten (not sure if it's a straight SK or a JK/SK split), but she might be able to share how she runs things in her room. Hope this helps!


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