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.”

What does learning feel like?

In my previous post, entitled ‘What does learning look like?’ I described the process of our Year 6 PYP exhibition unit, through which learners explored social inequities.

The day was a huge success. The opening ceremony showcased how every student explored the topic through a creative medium of their choice. The exhibition itself showed what each group had learned about their chosen example of social injustice, and how we can take action to address it. exhilarating as the day was, the truly exciting thing was the learning that took place throughout the preceding weeks.

Here’s a sample of student reflections to share their perspective…

The most important thing I learnt in the process is that there are so many stereotypes out there. At the start I thought all homeless people where ugly bearded people. Now I know that you can’t tell. I will remember that we are so much luckier and have to be gratful for what we have. The next time I see a homeless person I will see him as a human. A person. Alive. (Zac)

The part I will remember forever is the process of doing the inquiry. This is the first time we have independantly made our own questions, used the transdiciplinary skills etc. I will always remember it because this way of learning makes so much sense, because you are able to deepen all your learning and learn more. (Josh)

The exhibition unit has been a really great experience. I have learnt so much and I feel like it has been an amazing evaluation of all our PYP learning. I think our group was fantastic, and we did both our presentation and our level of learning very well. If anything could be changed, we might have maybe stopped learning and learning, and started getting to work sooner! (Matt)

The most important thing I got out of the exhibition process was to always appreciate what you have because we are so lucky to live our lifestyle. The thing I will remember forever is the importance of being aware of whats happening in the world, not just what we see! (Hannah)

The most important part to me was learning in a whole new way. It really made me aware of all the horrible things in the world and all the social inequities. It taught me that everyone is equal in the world and we all deserve the same rights. I will remember my group taking action at the Glenroy Special School forever. It was such a meaningful day for me and I will never forget it. (Miffany)

I think the most important thing to remember is to work with your partner or else you wont be able to pull it together in time. I think the thing that I will remember is presenting to an audience and having that feeling that you are sharing your learning. (Oliver)

The most important thing that I got out of the exhibition process was learning how to work as a group and how to work collaboratively and cooperatively. Another important part of the process for me was learning how to work under pressure because during the end of the exhibition we had lots to get done in a very short amount of time. I will remember forever our excursion to Parliament house and meeting Janice Munt. Janice Munt was the former MP of Mordialloc. Janice Munt told us about gender discrimination in Australia. (Lexi)

I think my group were co-operating a lot and the process was adventurous and engaging and it will be an experience I will never forget. I think the end result was the thing I will never forget because when I stand there I can feel proud of myself. (Bianca)

There are many insights in these reflections that excite me. Students’ ownership and understanding of their learning, a focus on process not just end result, increased awareness of the world, students’ pride in their learning, an emphasis on big ideas and trans-disciplinary skills not just on content…

As a recently authorised IB PYP school, this was only our second exhibition. We know we need to focus on improving the information process and making sure all students synthesise and organise their information before hurrying to the presentation stage. We might need to adjust the way students are grouped, in order to maximise learning. We’ll revisit the provocations, consider how to refine the conference day and whether we can reduce classroom activities so that students can start their personal inquiries earlier.

We plan to take the lessons we learned from the exhibition unit and use them, not just to make next year’s exhibition experience even better, but to set some goals for learning in the rest of the school.

Further student reflections here and parent feedback here, on some of our Year 6 blogs.

10 ways to encourage student reflection…

Optimal learning occurs when students are active participants in their own learning, rather than passive recipients of teacher-delivered content. For this to be effective, students really need to think about their learning. I worked with a group of teachers recently who felt their young students were not capable of writing meaningful reflections for their end of semester reports. That might be true. But only if reflection and metacognition are not integral parts of the learning in their classes.

How do we encourage students to think about their learning?

1. Focus on process, as much as on content.

Guy Claxton calls this ‘split screen teaching.’ Think about the learning process. Talk about the learning process. It’s not just about tasks and results or material to be covered.

2. Focus on learning, not on teaching.

Stop thinking about how to teach the content. Ask yourself: How best will learning take place? How can I actively involve every student? How will this help them develop as learners? Share this with the learners.

3. Always know why.

Make sure you and your students know the purpose of every task and of how it will advance the learning.

4. Invite students in.

Encourage students to plan how they will learn and to reflect on the learning process. Tell them they own their learning.

5. Allow time.

Make sure students have time to stop and think about why and how they learned, not just what. Give them five minutes at the end of a lesson to record their reflections.

6. Ask the right questions.

How might you find this out? What skills did you use? How did your group function? What worked and what didn’t? What connections did you make? How was your thinking pushed? Why did you choose the approach you did? What did you enjoy and why? How could you have done it differently?

7. Write it down.

Have students record their reflections and date them, so that you (and they) can see the process of their thinking. Use a journal, a class blog or post-it notes that can be quickly collected and pasted somewhere.

8. Use thinking routines.

Project Zero’s Visible Thinking suggests explicit thinking routines which encourage students to think about their learning. Try Connect, Extend, Challenge or 3,2,1 Bridge.

9. Make feedback meaningful.

Refer to learning attitudes and skill development, not just tasks and content. Refer to process and progress, not just product. Avoid saying ‘Well done!” Great work!’ ‘You could have put in more effort.’ ‘You completed this task successfully’ ‘Your essay is comprehensive’. This isn’t feedback about learning!

10. Model.

Talk about your own learning. Tell them what you learned and how you learned it. Talk about how your thinking has changed and how your skills have developed. Learning is ongoing…

More ’10 ways’ posts.