With Student-Led Conferences, Children Own Their LearningApril 2, 2019
Empower learning, instill confidence and encourage ownership of the learning process: That’s what student-led conferences do for Emily Caldarelli’s fourth-graders at Paul Cuffee School in Providence. Here’s how they work in Emily’s classroom.
My fourth-graders don’t just attend their parent-teacher conferences—they lead them.
To prepare for our conferences at the end of each trimester, we start by reflecting as a class. What are the big topics and units that we’ve spent time learning about during this trimester? What are the community activities and field trips that we’ve attended? Once our brainstorm is complete, students have some self-reflection time at their desks while they fill out a conference planning sheet. This sheet asks questions: What topic has been challenging this trimester? What have you enjoyed learning about?
Next, students choose two pieces of work to share with their family member. They go through their notebooks and assignments and thoughtfully pick their best work. Students often select diagrams or conclusions from their science notebooks, poems from their poetry anthologies, and pieces of writing from their writing notebooks. Some select projects from reading groups, or research projects that they’ve been compiling on their school laptop. On their conference planning sheets, students write a few sentences reflecting how they are proud of these particular assignments. This is a great opportunity for them to showcase the work they consider their personal best, work that typically stays in school. This adds an element of student choice to the conference to make it even more meaningful.
There is a segment for goals from teacher, student and parent at the end of the conference planning sheet. We fill this section out together as a team to close the conference.
Sometimes I ask students to leave the room for a few minutes so I can talk privately with their parent. This is always an option, and parents can request this private meeting if there’s something they’d like to bring up without their son or daughter in the room.
Over the years, I have seen how beneficial student-led conferences can be. The planning process forces students to reflect on their trimester. It allows them to highlight pieces of work that they are proud of, and the student really feels empowered because they are the ones leading the conversation. Instead of having a conversation about the student when they’re not present, I get to have a conversation with the student and his or her family. Most kids truly seem to enjoy it.
I always have a few points to add, but I try to allow the student to present the conference plan that they so carefully prepared. Isn’t our goal to empower learning, taking ownership, and instill confidence in students? Student-led conferences do just that.
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