My first year of teaching I had parent teacher conferences. I met with parents, discussing the report card and strengths and weaknesses of their children. The parents would leave, and I would have no idea what message was given to the child about their conference. I thought about how I would wait at the window for my own parents come home from their conference, asking how it went. The feeling of dread would blanket over as I listened to what I needed to work on. Connecting my own experience to that of my third graders, I decided I needed to make the shift to student led conferences. I thought deeply about who is in charge of learning. The answer is simply the student. Students had portfolios and were tasked with selecting pieces of work they were proud of, showed learning, and demonstrated things they still needed to work on. We used metacognition and designed a conference plan, reflecting on questions about learning in the content areas. Students role played what their conference would look like. They also were informed if parents wanted to talk to me alone to get a book and head to the hallway to read. Kicking and screaming on their way out was not an option.
Student led conferences in the third grade took 45 minutes per child. I remember meeting parents at night in the public library, during lunchtime, and after school. Did this take up a lot of my time, YES! Was it worth it? Every single second was. Students were able to express how they were as learners and what they needed to improve on. The turn around for starting to work on growing in weak areas began the very next school day. When you allow a child to internalize and speak about their learning they take it to heart. They make the decision to grow as learners, thinkers, and people. Self-reflection helps us all be better at things.
I have made the shift from 3rd to 4th to 5th grade and continued my journey with student-led conferences. I no longer need the 45 minutes with each family as 5th graders are very articulate. The big shift I am making this year is students will also have a Chromebook at their conference as their work in the Google Drive serves as a digital portfolio. Just like students keep evolving, so do I! When I ask students if they would rather be there or at home by the window; I am told they would rather be there. It is a powerful experience for them.