Second trimester report cards are upon us and with it is one of my (I will only speak for myself here, although I think Katie would agree with me) favorite times of the year: spring conferences. Katie and I love conferences; we love spending quality time with our students and their families. We love them so much, in fact, that we are notorious for getting really behind really quickly because we get so wrapped up in each individual conference that fifteen minutes is just not enough time. It’s a joke how badly we’ve gotten behind over the years. So, we started doing conferences like we do so many other things in our teaching, a little crazy and a little different 🙂
Katie is who brought up changing our conferences in the first place three years ago. We were in the beginning stages of planning out times and which one of us was going to be there on which days and we were probably already joking about how our schedule didn’t matter because we’d screw it up in no time. We stopped to reflect a bit and Katie shared with me about what she had observed from a few others teachers in our district. They were choosing to set up conferences for longer blocks of time and seeing more than one family at a time.
I was open to the idea, but was also, not surprisingly super anxious and freaked out and fired a ton of questions at her. Won’t that feel unsafe? How can we really get honest and deep with one family when there would be another one there too? How will we make sure to give families our time? What would our kids be doing when we aren’t next to them? How will families feel about this? Is this even ALLOWED?! That’s me, when I hear about change, I freak out and panic initially and then get on board. Katie, thankfully, knows this, and just humors my freak out until I will end up where she wants me to be: game to try!
As we worked together, I like to think magic ensued as we ended up with an empowered student-led conference for our sixth graders. Here are some general expectations we brainstormed on our own and with our students:
- They are 30 minutes long (at least)
- There are two families in the room at a time (or four families if Katie and I are both there)
- Our sixth graders lead, we facilitate
- Students create portfolios of work: some they choose, some we choose
- Students have an “agenda” of sorts that they develop with us, collect work and evidence for, and practice several times before their conference happens
- As a part of that “agenda” report cards are discussed, data is shared about their math/ELA Aimsweb trimester data and 40 book challenge progress, Classroom Habitudes are reflected on, evidence of learning is presented, and a new habitude goal is developed for the rest of the year
The extra time allows our students to share much more of their learning, reflections, and growth, allows us to spend a good chunk of time with families (which helps us NOT get behind 😉 ), and allows our families to truly get a well-rounded picture of the school life of our sixth graders.
Our students are freaked out a first when we tell them THEY will be running a thirty minute conference, but once they start collecting work and discussing with us the different things THEY think they should share with their families, this thirty minute conference doesn’t feel quite so big. One of my favorite parts of the planning process is when we discuss how we can make families feel welcome and at home in our room while they are at the conference. What comes out of that conversation are things like flowers on the tables, snacks or candy to munch on, making the room look clean/organized, place mats or tablecloths on our tables to make them look more welcoming, dressing up to impress, and there has even been ideas thrown out about holding out the chair for parents as they sit down.
The first few moments of the conference are a bit uneasy for students and parents alike because many of them have never been a part of something like before, but once our students get into the groove, it is a beautiful thing to watch and be a part of.
This year’s conferences have been the best yet so far. To witness our students talk so intelligently about their own data, which is part of their story as a sixth grade learner, is both humbling and inspiring. This year’s group also had a lot of time to look at feedback on many pieces of evidence passed back to them and was able to grow a beautiful portfolio to share learning. Finally, with the new addition of six iPads in our classroom, our students made a Prezi all about their reflection on Classroom Habitudes to share with families.
As we read feedback from the families about this experience and compliment sheets parents wrote to their children after the conference was over, it is clear our decision to do spring conferences differently has been a good call.
Yes, they are a little different. Yes, they are an opportunity for our sixth graders to show their families what kind of student they really are. Yes, they are still an avenue to discuss report cards, behavior, and academic progress. But most importantly, these conferences also give our students another opportunity to see how voice and choice are valued in our classroom. This is THEIR conference, not ours. As it should be.
If you’d like to see an example of the “agenda” the students helped create and used during their conferences, please click this link: Studentled_2016
Do you have student-led conferences? What do they look like? Share with us!