Let your students take the front seat and showcase what they’ve learned.
A hint at cooler weather, talk of Halloween costumes, and countdowns to fall breaks all remind us that our first round of conferences is upon us. While you may want to stash this trick up your sleeve for spring — especially if you have young students — student-led conferences (SLC) are a favorite opportunity for students to take ownership of their learning and for parents to beam with pride.
The best news is that student-led conferences don’t need to be complicated in order to be effective. After all, a strong SLC means you’ll be doing very little talking. Your goal? To set the students up so that they are prepared and organized to inform their parents about their role in your classroom, their progress so far, and what their goals are from there. Here’s how to do it in four steps.
1. Get them organized.
Students should spend some time reflecting on their progress to date. Then, ask them to prepare a presentation for their parents. You will need to provide time and materials to help them along — think self-evaluation surveys, checklists, and presentation practice time with a buddy.
2. Choose materials wisely.
The pieces chosen to “show off” during SLC should be chosen collaboratively between you and your students. Additionally, they should represent all subjects or grading areas. Large projects, important formative and summative assessments, and work that students feel shows growth are all key — it’s just as important to choose work that they excelled at as it is to include pieces displaying struggles. The next step is to decide together how they should present the information. You may want to provide differentiated options. Will they have a portfolio of work? A poster? A video recording that you can play on the SMARTBoard? Get creative and welcome their input.
3. Structure your conferences.
Many schools have conference time allotments (some may be 10 minutes a student, for example). You may want to give students more than enough information to present (to keep discussion flowing) while making it clear that if they don’t get to everything in that time period, it’s OK. Provide students with an outline of events or a “map” of how the conference should flow. Presentation materials, whether a poster or a flash drive, can easily be taken home for a night or two so that families can continue the conversation.
4. Prep for parent feedback.
Many parents may not be familiar with the format of an SLC, and it’s a good idea to send a note home in advance explaining how they’ll run. Save enough time at the end of conferences for parents to give their feedback to both you and their child. You may want to provide forms for them to jot down their praise, concerns, and ideas. For parents with whom you have weighty concerns to discuss, consider contacting them before conferences to schedule a separate, perhaps independent, time.
Handing over the reins can be a little stressful, but you — and your kids! — have this in the bag. Student-led conferences are a surefire way to ramp up student accountability and increase parent involvement. We’re calling this tool a win-win.
Heather Sparks is a writer, educator, and mom of two. An Arizona native, she holds a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and a master’s degree in gifted education from Arizona State University