I will never hold parent-teacher conferences the same again! The past few years I have been conducting student led conferences for my end of the year conference. This year I decided to try them for the beginning of the year as well. What a success!!! My third graders impressed their parents and me beyond what I was expecting!
Students discussed their strengths, weaknesses, successes, and reflected on goals for the school year. They felt so important and proud to be "in charge" of their conference.
This type of conferencing can be held a variety of ways. Hold them with all parents invited at one time. Invite small groups of parents at a time, over a few days. Or the student can lead a conference with the parent and teacher only. (The latter is a good format if you need to discuss academic/behavior concerns with the parent.)
I choose to hold mine one morning from 7:30-8:15. I invited all my parents at once. (I have 18 students) It was a little crowded, so I think for the end of the year I will split the group and schedule 2 different mornings. I asked that no siblings or other relatives attend. I wanted the students to have their parents' undivided attention. I asked parents to not "take over" the conference. Their child was to do all the talking! This was actually difficult for some! LOL! Parents wanted to read the papers themselves, etc. I think that everyone is in such a rush all the time and so "busy" that taking this time to sit and listen was a challenge for some, but they did it!
Prior to the morning, I prepared and "trained" the students on how and what to discuss with their family member. I found a WONDERFUL pack created by the lovely ladies at Lesson Plans SOS. It is the best I have found and they do a thorough job explaining the process step by step. I have to admit that I did not follow their exact format on this go around because I didn't have time to set it all up, but I did use their reflection forms. They are fabulous! (I plan on using the stations from their pack for the end of the year.)
I met one on one with each student a few days before the conference. I asked them to tell me how they thought they were doing so far in 3rd grade...what they do well and their strengths. I then asked what they thought they needed to work on. You will be amazed at how right on they are. Taking the time to talk with students gives you a whole new insight on them. I shared my written conference form with them and they shared what I said with their parents. Students also shared their Reader's Notebook, Writer's Notebook, and Social Studies & Science Interactive Notebooks. I have seen classrooms where each student keeps a portfolio for the year, but with the notebooks my students keep, all their work is right there to see from the beginning of the year to the end. In the pack from Lesson Plans SOS, they include checklists for the students to follow for each subject. You are able to edit their forms which makes it more personal to your classroom.
I am a firm believer in teaching kids how to reflect on school. My students use Family Message Journals (earlier post) which has them writing reflective letters to a family member each week. We have to let them be able to think and talk about their successes and weaknesses. They have to be in charge of their learning. For so many years I met with parents without the child present...what was the purpose? Shouldn't the students be part of their own education?? I love this entire process and I will never go back to typical, one on one conferences with parents again!
If you are wondering about the students who are having serious behavior or academic issues...yes I meet with parents one on one or via phone as needed. I still invite all parents to come in on conference day. If parents can not attend I will schedule another time for them to come in and meet with their child. I do not want any student to miss out on this experience.
After the parents left, I asked the kids how they felt their conference time went. The pride and excitement of being "in charge" was so evident among the kids. One student said "I had to focus my mom back to the conference" and another said, "we always listen to our parents now they had to listen to us". Gave me a little giggle, but I loved their honesty! (Sadly for some, this may be the only time they have their parent's total attention for such a long stretch of time which is another reason to offer this type of conference)
All in all, it is was a very, very successful morning. I had parents that doubted the process at first because it was not the "traditional" method. By the time the 45 minutes was up, they were convinced this was the best conference they had ever been to! I received lots of positive emails and thank yous for time well spent with their child. I was very pleased with the entire process. I hope you give it a try!
Have you tried student led conferences? Do you think this is something you would try? What are some conferencing tips and tricks you use? Would love to hear!