Student-Led Conferences Focus on Learning and Presentation in Fletcher


In Fletcher, sixth graders have deconstructed the traditional parent-teacher conference format in favor of Student-Led Conferences (SLC’s), and the structure is getting rave reviews.

“The student is the main player in the conference process,” sixth grade teacher Jasmine Tremblay told students. “Teachers guide students through the conference process and help prepare, but the responsibility of conveying information to parents and families rests on the students.”

Throughout the trimester, Tremblay’s student’s have continually self-assessed their progress across the curriculum based on learning targets. Their self-assessments, in conjunction with feedback from teachers, is combined with work examples in a learning portfolio that is used to demonstrate how they have met the learning targets. Students complete a self-evaluation for each academic class as well as behavior, reflect on their progress and set goals for continued learning.


Last week, students practiced presenting their portfolios and substantiating their evaluations with evidence during mock conferences during the day before appearing in front of their families for Student-Led Conferences Thursday evening. Some conferences lasted as long as an hour and students had written formal invitations to their families. Students dressed the part, having been asked to look professional for their presentations.

Within each student portfolio was an evaluation for all academic subjects and behavior, a grade reflection for each area and examples of “proud” and “challenging” work.

During conferences, families actively engaged in conversations about each student’s progress, but also gave feedback on communication skills related to the presentation. Families completed a survey for teachers that asked about their experience with the conference, to what degree they feel their child was able to reflect on their progress and plan for future success and comment on any goals that they would like to see for the spring.


During the evening conferences, several adults from school, including the School Counselor, Literacy Teacher Leader, Math Teacher Leader and Classroom Teacher, circulated between Student-Led Conferences gathering feedback for students on their speaking skills. They used a six-point rating scale based on the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts, specifically literacy, and provided reflections to students on their use of eye contact, volume, pronunciation, expression, varying sentence patterns for meaning, interest, and style, and their consistency in style and tone.

According to sixth grade teacher Jasmine Tremblay, the goals of Student-Led Conferences include increasing students’ accountability and autonomy with academics and learning habits, to hone verbal communication and critical thinking skills, to emphasize a student-centered approach to learning, to build relationships with families, to support students in reaching the required speaking standards and to teach students how to persuade others by substantiating claims with evidence.


“The adult family support is the second most essential attendee to the Student-Led Conference. Your student is the first,” Tremblay wrote to families. “The adult support must be willing to let the student speak.”

Families are expect to support students in meeting their ongoing academic and behavioral goals at home, and sharing any lingering concerns with the teacher independently, if necessary.

“I felt that Student-Led Conferences really gave students a chance to manage our grades and talk to their parents about it instead of the parent teacher conference when your parent comes home and asks what you think of your grade and you can’t answer. Also, it’s great because it helps us with our speaking skills and presentation skills. Another, reason that it helps is it show our parents how much we’ve grown and how confident we are,” sixth grader Christina Ashley said.

“I thought that the Student-Led Conferences were interesting. I think this because it’s different and new and something we’ve not done before. I was a little nervous at the beginning but when I got into the flow my nervousness went away. One thing that I did during that conference was I got to lead it and I got to show my parents the grades instead of the teacher showing them. That was nice because you can tell why you got the grade you got. Also, we practiced a lot for this.We had scripts and we also had the teachers pretend that they were our parents. That was nice because it gave us the chance to practice. Overall I think this student led conference went well and I think we should do it next year,” sixth grader Brody Chipman said.


“I think that having this kind of conference is important because your parents want to know how you’re doing from you. It’s also important because it gives you a chance to show your parents that you are capable of taking the blame for the grades you have and also taking the fame. During the conference I felt like my mom was proud of me for explaining my plan to make my grades better and I was also proud of myself for being able to lead a conference with my mom. I think more schools should do student led conferences to be more confident with talking to people and being independent and handling things on your own. The conference went well and now I know that I can do more leadership stuff like this in the future,” sixth grader Jaylin Alderman said.

Students will write formal thank-you notes to the adults that attended their conferences.

Read more about Student-Led Conferences here.

FWSU Action Plan

Target 2 – Leadership in a Student Centered Learning Environment. FWSU will foster development of teacher and student leaders who provide innovative opportunities for local and global student-centered learning.

Action Steps – (1) Provide multiple avenues for students and staff to lead, advocate, and serve within the school and community. (2) Ensure students and staff take an active role shaping their learning using rich, authentic questions, problems they identify, and diverse resources. (3) Develop learning habits, communication and problem solving skills necessary for collaborative learning and leadership.

Indicators of Success – (1) Teachers embrace role of coach, facilitator and co-learner in a student-centered learning environment. (2) Student voice will have the power to impact the perceptions of others.


Christopher Dodge is the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to the FWSU Blog. You can follow him on Twitter @FletcherFalcon

BFA High School Students Conduct Field Study

Students in Mr. Lane’s High School Climate Change class recently conducted a field study of tailpipe carbon dioxide emissions at area high schools. Students were interested in finding out how a sampling of car tailpipe Carbon Dioxide emissions from the BFA-Fairfax parking lot compared with cars from other high schools. They suspected they would see a difference between high schools drawing on rural student populations and those that were in more urban environments.


Senior Lana Goodrich records the make and model of a vehicle at South Burlington HS as part of the Climate Change Tailpipe CO2 field study

Students randomly sampled cars (50 each) from BFA-Fairfax, Essex HS, South Burlington HS, Missisquoi Union HS and Burlington HS.  After recording the make and model of the vehicle students were able to use the 10th digit of the vehicles serial number to find out the age of the vehicle.  Students then accessed the  the US Department of Energy website and used the information they had gathered to find out the CO2 Tailpipe emissions in grams per mile of the individual cars.  They then averaged these emissions per school.


Seniors Evan McNall and Chris Campbell record the serial number of the car at BFA Fairfax


Climate Change students welcomed the opportunity to use scientific methods to answer an authentic question regarding the carbon footprint of vehicle usage in rural versus urban environments. They expected the results from Essex HS and S. Burlington HS as compared to BFA and Missisquoi but were surprised with the high average of tailpipe CO2 emissions from Burlington HS.


BFA students ash Miner and Eddie McKenna discuss the make and model of a vehicle at Burlington HS during the data collection

What factors do you think could contribute to this result?

Target 4 Engaged Community Partners: FWSU staff and students will collaborate, innovate, create and conceptualize ideas and learning with local, regional, state, and global partners to make a difference in their community, state, and world.

Action Step: Plan and manage instruction around problems relevant to students and their community and develop solutions for authentic audiences

Indicator of Success: Collaborative student projects/partnerships become part of the fabric of the broader community.

Making Meaning of Thanksgiving at GEMS

Thanksgiving is a time for reflection, appreciation, and a time to gather with families and friends to be grateful for everything we have. It is a time for laughter and enjoying one another’s company- a time to acknowledge and be mindful of the lives we live.

Thanksgiving Contest - What Are You Thankful For?

To help students understand the importance of this holiday many activities were incorporated into the students’ daily routine at Georgia Elementary School. Many parents joined their children to help celebrate this festive event in school. Diverse activities occurred throughout the week and children were exposed to a variety of learning opportunities for a deeper understanding and meaning of Thanksgiving.

The following is a snapshot of those events:





Target 3 – Flexible Learning Environments. FWSU will maximize flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the school classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and differentiated learning opportunities for all.

Action Step – Develop opportunities for students to collaborate, innovate, create and conceptualize in all learning settings.

Up for Debate at GEMS

When you enter Matt Toof’s 6th Grade Social Studies classroom on a debate day, excitement and energy are front-and-center, along with a hefty emphasis on the development of Transferable Skills.


This year, all teachers and students in FWSU are working to deepen their understanding of proficiency in the area of Effective Communication. Teachers across the district are “scaling up” their learning tasks in key content areas in order to produce evidence of growing proficiency in important performance indicators. The 6th graders in this class at GEMS are regularly demonstrating this important evidence in a context that is relevant, authentic, and highly engaging.

poiont clarityAmidst of sea of dresses, collared shirts, and even some ties (these students take debate days very seriously), the chatter of students’ rehearsal of key points is quieted briefly as Mr. Toof sets the expectations for the debate. This includes a clear and concise review of the skills that students have learned, practiced, and will apply. These skills represent a comprehensive teaching and learning design integrating key social studies, ELA, and speaking and listening standards. Students have spent considerable time reading a Junior Scholastic article (anchor text that frames the resolution for them), researching, discussing, and getting claims and counter-claims set up and backed up by multi-media representations of evidence. After the experience, they produce a written response. As Matt says, the class is a “double dose of literacy” for the students.

I'd like to sayOn this particular day, the required resolution is: Should celebrities endorse junk food? Following words of encouragement to both the affirmative and negative teams from Mr. Toof, the two sides (inclusive of all class members) “huddle up” in opposite corners of the room for one final review of their well-planned positions and to decide who will deliver the Constructive (introductory) Speech.

something to say

iPads at the ready for referencing key points and fact-checking, the debate begins. Instantly lively, the thrill of rebuttal sends hands shooting up as each point is made. Mr. Toof suggests, although still early in the year, that the class is ready to use their skills to be patient and take respectful turns without raising hands. The students’ accountability increases as the debate continues. The suggestion is met with success. Student agency grows.

backing it upDuring the process, Mr. Toof records criteria-based evidence for each student. And there is plenty to record. Students quote the article, build on each other’s ideas, rebut various points through both questioning and elaboration, challenge and defend sources, and project several forms of evidence on Apple TV. Throughout, Matt continues to coach, providing just-in-time feedback that moves the debate forward.

sum it up

As the class period draws to a close, final arguments and two-word summaries are presented. Student voice has taken center stage, a stage that has been set by the students themselves. As one of the students shared, ” This helps us a lot. We learn how to mark up text, how to collaborate, and how to prove our points with evidence in a fun, friendly way.” That about sums up what I observed: students’ hearts and minds purposefully engaged in this powerful performance task. No debating that!

FWSU Action Plan

Target 2 – Leadership in a Student-Centered Learning Environment FWSU will foster development of teacher & student leaders who provide innovative. opportunities for local and global student-centered learning

Action Step – Develop learning habits, communication, and problem-solving skills necessary for collaborative learning and leadership.

Indicator of Success – Student voice will have the power to impact the perceptions of others.



Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum at FWSU. She is a regular contributor to the FWSU Blog. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

STAR’s are Born at FWSU

Recently Juliet King, Literacy Specialist/Coach at BFA Fairfax provided mini-workshops to review STAR 360 with special educators and SLP’s. STAR 360 is a comprehensive K-12 assessment tool, allowing educators to screen and group students for targeted instruction, measure student growth, predict performance on Smarter Balanced exams and Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM) assessments, and monitor achievement on Common Core State Standards.


STAR 360 includes all the features of STAR Reading, STAR Math, and STAR Early Literacy, giving educators valid, reliable, actionable data in the least amount of testing time. It’s perfect for screening, benchmarking, student growth measurement, progress monitoring, and instructional planning. Educators have immediate access to the data and insights they need to improve student outcomes. You can learn more by clicking on the link here.


STAR 360 has already provided valuable data that has allowed teachers to gain a greater understanding of their students strengths and vulnerabilities, allowing for modifications in instructional practices or curriculum as needed. The guiding question for our educators is: How is this informing instruction?


Follow your STAR’s

Target 3 – Flexible Learning Environments. FWSU will maximize flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the school classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and differentiated learning opportunities for all.

Action Step – Develop opportunities for students to collaborate, innovate, create and conceptualize in all learning settings.

Indicator of Success – Use of digital tools to differentiate and individualize learning.

“It is Often What You Don’t See in Classrooms That is the Most Telling!”

Target 1 – Student-Centered Learning
FWSU students will engage in personalized learning involving collaborative inquiry, problem solving, and creative learning opportunities.

Action Step – Highlight, create, and
model innovative learning opportunities that promote collaborative inquiry,
problem solving, and creativity for students and staff.

Indicator of Success – Students and staff will apply existing knowledge to create original works as a means of personal or group expression.

1UntitledIn today’s educational environment, the most important thing a principal can do is to be in classrooms interacting with students and staff members on a daily basis. Without making this a priority,  I am not sure how a school leader keeps a pulse on the quality of instruction, the school climate, and student learning. 8Untitled Being in classrooms is my favorite part of my job.  I learn so much about pedagogy, behavior management, assessments, and my students from observing and interacting in classrooms.  A mentor of mine once said, “It is often what you don’t see in a really great teacher’s classroom that is most telling!”  This statement is full of wisdom and has made an important impression on my professional practice.  


Engaging classrooms and responsive teachers do not happen by accident.  It is the result of constant professional learning, high levels of collaboration, ongoing reflection, and a laser-like focus on student needs.  

4UntitledIt can be challenging to put into words the qualities and characteristics of effective teachers and the classroom environments they develop.  In the classrooms of the most effective teachers, learning is constant and respect is evident at all times.  It can be seen in the relationships, in the rigor of the learning, and the relevance of the content and learning opportunities.


In many ways state and national testing creates a similar paradigm.  Although test data is important, it is also what the tests do not assess and do not show us that is equally important!  Tests do not measure important qualities such as respect, responsibility, compassion, service to others, perseverance, or collaboration.  We are charged with preparing students for future jobs that do not yet exist.  This requires us to remain focused on skills, competencies, and dispositions that will allow students to learn, unlearn, and relearn throughout their lifetime.  It is an exciting challenge and a compelling reason to continue to look for those things we cannot always measure.


We are so fortunate to have so many effective, student-centered, and caring educators at this school.  As the landscape of education in Vermont continues to change, our students will continue to be well-served, and I hope we continue to monitor those valuable qualities we cannot assess and those important components we do not always see.  





Thomas Walsh is the Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary Middle School and is a regular contributor to the FWSU Blog. You can follow him on Twitter @educatamount

New Technology Provides Instant Feedback in BFA HS Science

Biology students at BFA were able to utilize a new technology that completely changed the way they looked at a traditional science experiment. The experiment involved a glass globe, a tray with water for sealing the globe and a candle. As the candle burns under the globe, the oxygen level decreases, and is replaced with carbon dioxide. While this chemical transformation is happening, the pressure inside the jar decreases as well.

The little black box inside the dome is a PocketLab

The little black box inside the dome is a PocketLab

BFA recently acquired a PocketLab sensor that measures temperature, pressure, rotation, acceleration and magnetic fields. The sensor is small and durable and wirelessly transmits data to an iPad. The device was placed under the dome and set to measure the pressure inside so students could observe the change. It was this extra information that transformed the experiment from passive observation to fully engaged participation and experimentation.


Students observed the pressure drop, but it didn’t drop in the consistent manner that the students had predicted. Students were curious about the why the changes was so inconsistent and began to offer theories and adjustments to change the outcome. Was the table that held the experiment responsible for the fluctuations? They moved the experiment and found the changes were less consistent than before. “The new technology in the form of the PocketLab changed the experiment and gave the students the opportunity to engage in the process with immediate real data to support their predictions” said teacher-observer Mark Ladue.

This was our first experiment with the PocketLab. With its compact size, ease of use and ability to measure a variety of phenomena, the possibilities to provide inquiry based learning seem endless.