Often times teachers ask many questions about how to get children to learn. One question, that we often hear is “how can you possibly build intrinsic motivation in a student that just doesn’t care?” There is no clear cut or definitive answer to this, but there are things that work with some of the students. One thing that we have seen work well is the idea of student led conferences.
Primarily, a student-led conference is a new twist on the way of doing a traditional parent-teacher conference. In essence, it is the idea that the students are all responsible for tracking their own data and knowing their strengths and weaknesses. The student leads the conference!!! The student explains what standards they are on, what standards they have mastered, what skills they are developing, and what goals they have set for themselves, academically and behaviorally. The teacher is meant to be there as a resource if the child needs that extra assistance, or is having trouble expressing what they want to say. The parents often still want to hear from the teacher about what they think, as a professional, which then we can provide them the support and resources to help their children with the areas that need additional support.
Both of us decided that it would be the best idea to have a checklist for the student’s to follow about what they need and want to share with their parents. The checklist helped students stay on track and also comforted students that were nervous or needed additional support. Some kids used it explicitly, while others just started talking about the classroom learning and didn’t really utilize it (even though they still progressed through all of their talking points).
Kate: Shortly after the second report card of the year went out, it felt like a logical time to implement student led conferences. We decided to hold a “Learning Celebration” where all students could invite their parents or a staff member (if a parent was unable to attend.) We took the morning and all went into the cafeteria. When parents arrived, students were able to lead them to the meeting area to walk them through their data binders which contains evidence of all academic and non-academic data and tracking. Students were able to explain to their parents their preferred learning styles, standards that have been mastered or standards that need additional practice, goals they have set for themselves, inquiry-based presentations, projects, etc. Parents were amazed at how much their child new about their own learning. Students were answering questions and I was able to be there for clarification or giving advice on how to expand on the skill at home. It was amazing to see the academic conversations that were happening amongst students and parents. Since we have a high Hispanic population, I was able to have our translator there for additional support with communication between parents, myself, and students. However, she was used rarely since our students were doing most of the translating and parents were quite elated to hear how well the students spoke about their learning and goals. After the conference had concluded, the students and parents were able to enjoy breakfast together and discuss current projects, do a room tour, or just enjoy each other’s company. We did have certain students designated as photographers to catch all the action. After parents left, students got the opportunity to write thank you letters to their parents for attending their conference. Preparing the students attributed to the success of the student-led conferences. The day before, students were able to practice on a classmate with the provided checklist. Reminders were sent home after the initial invitation to parents or teachers to ensure all students had the opportunity to discuss and celebrate their learning.
Confidence: It gives students the chance to be confident and showcase work that they are individually proud of.
Communication: Often times it is difficult to communicate with parents of ESOL students, especially if you don’t have a translator available. This eliminates the need for a translator because the kids are able to translate the ideas that they want to present.
Availability: As a teacher, we often have scheduling conflicts with meetings, multiple conferences, etc, but this process allows us to have multiple conferences going on at once, and allowing parents to come into the room, while the students are independently working. Less stress on the teacher since pre-planning is in the student’s hands and they have evidence of their learning via data binders.
Presentations: Parents like seeing what their kids are doing, but when you transition to a more project-based, presentation-based, technology-based learning style, the parents don’t often get to see the work of their kids (especially without internet at home), but when they can come in and have it explained to them, with the rubrics available, it makes significantly more sense. Students are able to give their parents an accurate depiction of authentic assessments that are done as evidence for their learning.
Motivation: This provides intrinsic motivation because many students want their parents or former teachers to be proud of them and what they are doing, so they try to present their best. One child that asked, “... my conference is tomorrow, can I please work on my presentation at lunch because I really want to show my mom?” Who would argue with that?
Fluency: We gave our students time to practice and rehearse with a friend, which allowed them to see which things that they spent more time on and what they need to speed up. This allowed them to work on how they wanted to say things and what words to use to present their ideas in the best way. This repeated practice helped them understand their learning more comprehensively because if you have to teach mom or dad about the standards you are learning, you have to truly know them.
Practice: We have seen a huge improvement in our students abilities to communicate their needs, wants, desires, and to problem solve, because they are able to communicate more clearly and they take the time to process what they want to say and use appropriate language to communicate with peers and adults..
Accountability: Students increased their understanding of standards prior to conferences by reviewing proficiency scales, ability to speak about behavior/academics with rubrics, and keeping real time data about their learning. Students are able to engage in open and honest dialogue with their parents. Additionally, parents are motivated to come hear their child speak about their learning. It is easy for parents to forget about conferences with the teacher, but very rarely are they going to miss a conference with their child.