Questions & Authors: Put students in charge of learning

April 1st, 2009

TeamWork

In Part I of our three-part Questions & Authors series with the authors of TeamWork: Setting the Standard for Collaborative Teaching, Grades 5-9, Monique Wild talks about how she used student-led conferences to get parents involved in their children’s lives at school and to get students motivated and excited about their own learning.

When we first began to host student-led conferences, we had meager hopes that the conferences would serve as a tool to assist our students in articulating their academic progress to their parents. Often parents had complained to us that their middle school children no longer told them about school activities. In fact, when questioned about what had occurred at school, most of our students responded with a standard, “Nothing!”

Student-led conferences were our attempt to bridge the widening communication gap that was forming between our middle-schoolers and their parents. We did not realize the power that student-led conferences would also have in improving the academic success of our students. Suddenly, our students became active, empowered participants in the learning process. In short, they not only communicated with their parents, but also began to accept responsibility for their successes as well as for improvements that were needed in their academic endeavors. It seemed that once they realized they would have to discuss their academic progress one on one with their parents and provide evidence to support their findings, academic activities became more important to them. What we witnessed was nothing short of a magical transformation. Here are the key components that made student-led conferences successful in our classrooms.
Preparation:
1. Gather artifacts to share with parents.
Our students maintain portfolios that contain graded assignments, photographs of learning activities, articles about our students from the local newspaper, work students are proud of, and student self-evaluations. It is important that students be provided time throughout the course of the grading period to organize and peruse portfolios to note trends in their performance. When portfolios are part of a reflective learning component in regular classroom activities, students are much more likely to articulate information about their learning to their parents.
2. Allow students to set goals.
Our students use their portfolios to reflect upon their learning and to set goals for improvement in subsequent learning activities. The goals they set are shared with their parents during student-led conferences and are monitored closely throughout each grading period. By setting their own learning goals, our students become responsible for their own learning.
3. Allow students to plan for the discussions prior to the student-led conference.
When we first invited parents for student-led conferences, we thought that the conversation would flow easily between our students and their parents if they were simply provided student portfolios to peruse. However, in the beginning many of our students sat silently looking at their parents for the duration of the conference. Now we have our students complete a discussion plan prior to conference day. We provide our students with the following sentence starters to which students write their thoughts.
– Three things I’d like to discuss with my parents are…
– What I need to explain to my parents about my goals includes…
– The thing I’m most proud of is…
– I need to work on…
– I want to tell my parents that I need help with…
In addition to having students write their plans prior to conferences, we also have them take their plans with them as reference notes during the conference. This provides our students and their parents with a guide for the proceedings.
Logistics:
1. Schedule dates and times for student-led conferences well in advance.
In today’s hectic world, we have found that it is essential to have dates for student-led conferences planned well in advance so that parents have time to adjust their schedules in order to attend. We have found that we experience the largest parental turnout when we schedule conferences throughout the school day and into the early evening. This gives all of our students’ families a chance to attend without jeopardizing job-related responsibilities.
2. Send personalized invitations two weeks before the event.
We tend to experience greater turnout for our student-led conferences when we send personalized invitations to our students’ parents prior to the event. We ask parents to RSVP with the time they plan to attend so that we can accommodate all of our visitors.
Feedback:
It is also helpful to ask for feedback from parents to assist in planning for future events. The feedback will help you to fine-tune the process to better facilitate discussions between your students and their parents. Questions that have helped us to improve the student-led conferences experienced by our students and their parents include the following.
– How was the student-led conference beneficial to you and your child?
– What was the most pertinent information you gained during the conference?
– What do you still want to know?
– What were your expectations of the event prior to the conference with your child?
– What do you feel your child’s teachers need to know?

Because we have incorporated student-led conferences into our practice, our students have become more engaged in the learning process and their parents have reported feeling more involved in their children’s education. The notion of adolescent students taking responsibility for their own learning is a compelling argument in support of student-led conferences. This alone is reason enough for us to encourage all educators to consider student-led conferences as a way to engage your students and their parents in meaningful dialogue about academic progress. We anticipate that you will witness magical ransformations just as we have. Enjoy the magic!

Entry Filed under: Classroom practice,Questions & Authors

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Cheryle McGinnis  |  April 5th, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    That is a great idea, and I am so happy I found this information.
    Keep up the good work.

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