Conference Time!

This week is conference week in Anchorage. At the middle school level, we do Student Led Conferences, in which students prepare a portfolio that includes work samples and self-reflections and present it to their parents. Teachers check in during the conference to see if parents have any questions, but the student is responsible for explaining his or her experience in the class to his or her parents.

I have struggled to create self-reflections that elicit honest, accurate responses from students, and I think that I have finally found the magical combination (until next year, I’m sure)!! First, students complete this self-reflection about their experience in the class. I have used this in the past, and it has proven a successful conversation starter for students and parents. Kids get to talk about what they like and don’t like, and consequently the areas in which they experience successes and struggles. Download a free, editable version of this document here.

The second piece is one that I added this year, and I am VERY pleased with its success. It is a self-reflection on behavior, work habits, etc. (their Citizenship grade, essentially). I found that by a simple re-phrasing of the questions (asking students what they think that I would say to their parents vs. simply what they think about their own performance), students produced more honest, well-thought out and defended responses. Knowing that I would later circle whether I agree or disagree with their thoughts held them accountable, and I added comments to support my agreement or dissent.  Download a free, editable version here (but beware–the font that I used in the original is most likely not on your computer, so you will probably need to do some re-formatting).

Students included this self-reflection in their portfolio with work samples and explanations of why they chose to include those samples. The final piece that I used was this “instruction sheet” for parents, so that they could speak with their students about the missing and incomplete components of their portfolio. It is helping parents to feel equipped to address concerns about work habits with their child and develop strategies and goals to address those concerns.

There are some benefits to Student Led Conference and some challenges, but I am thankful for the opportunity with which it provides students to have meaningful conversations with their parents about their class performance! It is also great for the MANY families in our school that do not speak English! What do you do for conferences??

8 comments

  1. We don’t use standard based grading or portfolios…but your post gave me idea. I teach Spanish 1 at the 8th grade level. My students have to decide if they are going to sign up for Spanish II at the high school or retake Spanish 1 in January before the year is over and I have over 160 students so it is hard to meet with each student and discuss what they think they should do and what I think they should do. I am doing to have every student fill out an self assessment similar to what you shared about their abilities and whether or not they should sign up for the next level of Spanish. Thanks for all you great ideas….I really enjoy reading your posts!

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  2. This is such a wonderful idea. Thank you for sharing! How much parental participation to you get at these student-led conferences? During our regular parent-teacher conferences, I don’t get any participation from the parents. They are usually just concerned with speaking to the basic skills teachers. Also, will you explain more about the reflection paragraphs that students include with their chosen work samples…is there a specific format they use or information they must include?
    Thanks!

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    • Parent participation is typically excellent–there are always a few that just want to check it off their list and move on, but most sit down and listen and ask questions and end up discussing all of the assignments in the portfolio instead of just the ones with reflections. I’ll upload the template for the reflection paragraphs later today if I remember, but basically there are a string of prompts that students match with assignments and then explain, like, “I am so proud of this assignment because….” or “This assignment shows that I improved because…” or “I wish we never had to do another assignment like this because…”. I don’t like that we need to spend a lot of class time preparing for conferences (supposedly it’s worth it because the students reflect, learn, and set goals…mine seem to go through the motions but not take anything in), but I do like that it takes the pressure off me in conferences and the parents are focused on their child’s performance and work habits, not mine.

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  3. Love it! We don’t do student-led conferences but I think it’s an awesome idea! I’m definitely going to use this! Thank you so much for sharing!

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  4. This is so helpful!! Student led conferences has always been a challenge of mine because I don’t have a lot of “work” to show parents but the skills are there. Here in Denver we also got some of the ACTFL can do statements… I’m thinking about tying those into conferences as well. I’m just not sure exactly how to yet.

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