Friday, September 20, 2013

Student/Parent/Teacher Conferences and FREEBIE

Since we just wrapped up our quarter, we also had report card conferences. Have you ever implemented Student Led Conferences? I have done a number of conferences where I ask that students are present where we also set 1-2 goals. I'm a big fan of making sure that all involved parties (student, parent, and teacher) are on the same page, having the same conversations when appropriate, but this year I had a totally crazy idea!

What if students and parents led the conference? {I have to admit, part of this idea was PURE selfishness. Conferences take up a ridiculous amount of time, including many late evenings. This idea quickly started to evolve into a way that I could have multiple conferences happening at the same time and potentially finish them in less days and less long afternoons.} I had other great reasons too, including the positive experiences I have had with leading goal setting sessions with students and parents and having students attend their report card conferences.

How did I go about setting this up?
1) I chose 4 evenings that I would block off (over the course of 3 weeks) from 3-6 for parents/students to sign up. (I ended up doing this in only 3 evenings because I was sick one of the days and had to cancel all of those conferences.) I then sent an email to parents explaining how I wanted to do conferences this year.
Click the image to Go to the GoogleDoc version that you can copy and modify for yourself

2) Students completed a reflection on all subject areas during class prior to the start of conferences. (**I want to share this with you, but my best version is on my school computer. I will upload it later.)
3) I prepared a list of guiding questions for parents. (This matches the same order as the student reflection)
4) I decided what materials students would need in order to successfully discuss their learning. These items included:
* Readers Workshop Notebook
* Math Workshop Stations Folder and Math Notebook
* Writing Draft Folder
* Social Studies Assignments, including a nonfiction reading assignment

On the day of each round of conferences, I pulled the scheduled students together and asked them to sticky note two places in their reading journal that showed their best thinking. (One had to be a write about reading entry, but the other could be from minilesson and read aloud). Then students pulled all of the materials they would need and placed them in a basket.

* Students are in charge. Students are responsible for sharing what they have learned this year, including classroom routines and procedures.
* College and Career Readiness {baby}: Don't we all have to undergo annual reviews where we explain the work we have done so far this year, explain what we are working on, goals we have achieved, and things we would like to do better? This is such a great, real-world, career-related experience for students!
* I felt that parents received MORE infromation about what goes on in our classroom. Rather than presenting a report card and explaining 2's, 3's, and 4's in each area, they really could get a sense of what their child is accomplishing this year.

Wow! I didn't realize how rewarding this would truly be. First, just taking a look at students' reflections and seeing (in their own words, without any influence from me) how much they were loving 5th grade, how they were capable of recognizing the improvements they have already made, and how they were able to come up with ways to improve themselves was huge.

Second, it was AMAYahzing to hear students tell their parents what we were learning in class. I could not believe how everyone was able to spout off lessons I had taught...HELLoooo! They are listening!

What did I learn?
1) 3 sets of parents/students in the room at the same time is probably ideal. At one point, I had 4 in the room and I was concerned that parents might not have felt they were getting enough attention from me (although I don't think they felt this way, I was a little anxious for criticism of this new way of doing things).
2) Having a set of parents/student scheduled for a time slot ALONE was not ideal. It changed the feel of the conference. Since they were the only ones in the room, I was all to available for them and probably did too much leading of their conversation. These conferences also tended to go on for an hour because there was no pressure to finish or understanding that other groups of parents/students were moving along faster.
3) Some students were able to "blow smoke" when talking to their parents. I allowed the child to explain things from his/her perspective, but I was hoping the parents would probe more. When they didn't, I may have asked a probing question or let it go. In the end, the report card demonstrates a more accurate picture.

All in all, I think this was a great success and will do it again next year. For 2nd and 3rd quarters, I plan to have students complete the same type of reflection and invite parents in to do a check-in on what their child has accomplished with his/her goals that they set during 1st quarter conferences. I will probably offer two evening sessions for this and let it be solely parent/student led.

I've uploaded an editable version of the student reflection and conference questions to TPT. Of course, you will want to modify the questions and directions to fit your needs. If you use these materials or ideas, I would love to hear how it goes!
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