Student led conferences

In this guest post Hailey Joubert, a Year 6 teacher, describes student led conference, where learners reflect on and share their learning with the parents…

Is it a worthwhile experience?

A few weeks ago our Year 6 students proudly and a little nervously conducted their annual Student Led Conferences (SLC).

“What are Student Led Conferences?” you may ask?

“Student Led Conferences involve the student and their parents. The student is responsible for leading the conference and also takes responsibility for their learning by sharing the process with their parents. The conference involves the student discussing and reflecting upon samples of work that they have previously chosen to share with their parents. These samples have been previously selected with guidance and support from the teacher and could be from the student’s portfolio” (taken from the IBO guidelines).

Some of my students showed samples of learning they had embedded on our class blog (as seen in right hand photo above). Students could even demonstrate a skill they have acquired/mastered in numeracy or ICT, should time allow. As an authorised PYP school we have chosen to use the SLC format for one of the conferences we hold each year. But it is my opinion that all schools should take this format on board. Why? I can give you 10 good reasons:

  1. SLC’s provide an authentic opportunity for students to reflect  as learners;
  2. SLC’s also provides an authentic opportunity for sharing what they have learned with their parents;
  3. As I observed my students making decisions about what pieces of work to choose and analyse what each piece indicates about them as learners – I was moved by their insight and honesty;
  4. When I listened to the conversations taking place between student and parents, it highlighted the amazement and awe most parents felt in response to what their son/daughter was sharing;
  5. I observed students taking responsibility for their learning;
  6. I observed students’ self-esteem blossoming as they reflected upon their growth;
  7. I observed parents’ pride in their child’s achievements;
  8. It was an enjoyable for all involved;
  9. The students felt it was worthwhile;
  10. The parents felt it was worthwhile.

Here are two parents’ comments which they shared in their reflection on our class blog:

 “I felt that the self-evaluation part was fantastic and showed the level of maturity the students have achieved that they are able to self analyse so articulately.”

“The student led conference was definitely worthwhile in allowing us time to see the work that Victoria is doing that we only see a fraction of at home. It was also a pleasure to see the confidence with which she was able to share her work – and to see her engaging in a fair-minded critique of herself.  We were able to see an entirely different side of our daughter. I found myself wondering when she grew up into such a confident and capable young lady!”

Here is a student’s response taken from our class blog:

“I thought that the student led conference was a worthwhile experience because I don’t normally share my work with my parents, so sharing my work with my parents is a special time for me. My parents appreciate my work and I feel proud.”

10 ways to encourage students to take responsibility for their learning…

1. Don’t make all the decisions

Allow choice. Encourage students to make decisions about how they learn best. Create opportunities for them to pursue their own interests and practise skills in a variety of ways.  Cater for different learning styles. Don’t expect everyone to respond in the same way. Integrate technology to encourage creative expression of learning.

2. Don’t play guess what’s in my head

Ask open-ended questions, with plenty of possible answers which lead to further questions.   Acknowledge all responses equally. Use Thinking Routines to provide a framework for students to engage with new learning by making connections, thinking critically and exploring possibilities.

3. Talk less

Minimise standing out front and talking at them.  Don’t have rows of learners facing the front of the class.  Arrange the seats so that students can communicate, think together, share ideas and construct meaning by discussing and collaborating. Every exchange doesn’t need to go through the teacher or get the teacher’s approval, encourage students to respond directly to each other.

4. Model behaviors and attitudes that promote learning.

Talk about your own learning. Be an inquirer. Make your thinking process explicit. Be an active participant in the learning community. Model and encourage enthusiasm, open-mindedness, curiosity and reflection.  Show that you value initiative above compliance.

5. Ask for feedback

Get your students to write down what they learned, whether they enjoyed a particular learning experience, what helped their learning, what hindered their learning and what might help them next time. Use a Thinking Routine like ‘Connect, extend, challenge’. Take notice of what they write and build learning experiences based on it.

6. Test less

Record student thinking and track development over time. Provide opportunities for applying learning in a variety of ways. Create meaningful assessment tasks that  allow transfer of learning to other contexts. Have students publish expressions of their learning on the internet for an authentic audience. Place as much value on process and progress as on the final product.

7.  Encourage goal setting and reflection.

Help students to define goals for their learning. Provide opportunities for ongoing self-evaluation and reflection. Provide constructive, specific feedback.   Student blogs are great tools for reflecting on learning and responding to their peers.

8. Don’t over plan.

If you know exactly where the lesson is leading and what you want the kids to think, then you‘re controlling the learning. Plan a strong provocation that will ‘invite the students in’ and get them excited to explore the topic further. But don’t  plan in too much detail where it will go from there.

9.  Focus on learning, not work.

Make sure you and your students know the reason for every learning experience. Don’t give ‘busy work’. Avoid worksheets where possible. Don’t start by planning activities, start with the ‘why‘ and then develop learning experiences which will support independent learning.  Include appropriate tech tools to support the learning.

10.  Organise student led conferences

Rather than reporting to parents about their children’s learning, have student led 3-way conferences, with teacher and parents. The student talks about her strengths and weaknesses, how her learning has progressed and areas for improvement. She can share the process and the product of her learning.

I  know there are lots more ways. Please add to the list!