Student Led Conferences

You walk into the classroom and see a student sitting at a pod of desks with her  parents discussing her work portfolio.  There is quiet music playing in the background.  Another student walks in with his grandmother to a different pod os desks and pulls out her chair for her while asking if she would like a bottle of water or a snack.  Another parent is reading his reflection aloud to his daughter about how  he sees she is a learner at home.  The teacher is quietly grading papers at her desk while listening in enough to know when  each group will be close to finishing.  At that time, she will rise and speak to the parents directly for any other conference clarifications.

Since implementing Student Led Conferences many years ago, I would never go back to traditional options. The best part is overhearing learning discussions.

Does this sound like a dream to you?  Are your conferences typically 10-15 minutes of back to back packed information before ushering the parent out to bring in the next who is sitting in the hallway checking his or her watch?  Can you REALLY tell a caregiver about the progress of this truly unique small person in just 15 minutes?

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I don’t know about you, but I prefer option A from above and since implementing Student Led Conferences many years ago, I would never go back to traditional options.  The best part for me is overhearing the true discussions between the child and the adult(s) throughout the conference.  It is eye-opening not just for the parent, but also for the student.  I MIGHT get very emotional each year when I listen in.  It is really astounding.

For those who have already landed on the Student Led Conference train – you already know.  For those who are still on the fence, here are a few Frequently Asked Questions:

What age level is appropriate for Student Led Conferences?

My personal experience has been that they work best for grades 2 and up.  My third graders did an AMAZING job.  As long as they can read a prewritten script and understand what they are talking about, then they are good to go.  I do believe you could do a variation of Student Led Conferences with younger students with adaptations.

How do the students know what to say?

There is a prewritten script with data blanks.  The students are able to match the script to the page in their portfolio to explain what the parent is looking at siultaneously.  The student fills in the data from that page to make the script unique to that child’s learning progress and goals.

How long do the conferences typically last?

The best part about Student Led Conferences, n my personal opinion, is that there are no set time limits and no one feels rushed.  With that said, I have had conferences as short as 20 minutes, but for the most part, the average time was 45 minutes.  That is from the time the students walk in, seat their adult(s) and offer refreshments, get their portfolio, walk through their portfolio including assessments, best work examples, goals, and behavior reflections, the parent shares some of their thoughts with the student, the student puts away the materials, the teacher comes over to discuss any lingering questions with the parents, and they leave.

What if the parents ask the question:  “So, how is Suzy REALLY doing?”

I actually get this question ALMOST every time.  The BEST part about it?  I can toss it right back to Suzy.  “What did Suzy tell you about how she is doing?”  And I always back the student.  The numbers don’t lie.  I have already added in my teacher  feedback via specific times in the portfolio and Suzy has practiced her presentation several times so she knows exactly how she is doing.  Parents are always pleased to know there is no hidden discussion remaining to be had.

How much work is involved in prepping for Student Led Conferences?

A lot.  Most definitely.  There is no hiding that.  BUT – if you are having students help you prep data charts and pull best work examples once a week, then about 1 week before conferences, it might take another 30 minutes each day that week to prepare the portfolios, number the pages, fill in the data on the scripts, and do role playing practice.  In my personal opinion, the awareness of how much each child has actually learned and how they are able to articulate that to their parent is worth so much more than the little bit of instructional time lost.  Especially when they know they will repeat the process at least one more time again in the school year.  They are far more aware of their own learning goals and whether they will hit them.

What do you do about no shows?

That’s the best part!  Since it is student led, I send the portfolio home with the child and ask the student to complete the conference at home and return everything with a parent signature.  They are free to call me – or I send them a note with a time I plan on calling them to confirm the conference has been completed and answer any questions they may have.

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Of course, I cannot POSSIBLY answer all the questions a teacher who is thinking about Student Led Conferences may have, which is why I created all the templates and directions in the following product:

Student Led Conferences eBook Cover

Even without that particular resource, I highly encourage all teachers to do a little research to find out more about Student Led Conferences.  They truly changed how I felt about PT Conference Nights!  Instead of dreading the cattle rush, I looked forward to a relaxing evening of connecting even more with the caregivers and students as a learning team.

Have you ever tried Student Led Conferences?  We would love to hear your tips in the comments below as well!

~Charity
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