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