conferences, new teacher, new year, Student-centered

How To Do Student-Led Conferences

Image from icanread

I seem to have written a lot about the why of student-led conferences but then have never given a step by step approach on how to do it.  Fresh in my mind from my webinar for SimpleK12 – here are the steps.  Use them as you wish.

First to the Why:

Let Them Speak – Why Student-Led Conferences Are the Right Choice

Now the How

Before you start:

  • Think about your reasoning; what are you trying to accomplish with them?
  • Determine if you want full or hybrid.  Full meaning all student-led with only a few minutes of teacher talk or hybrid meaning half and half between teacher ad student.  I do a mixture depending on the child and the time of year.
  • The age of the child, the make up of your district, and how crazy of an idea this is can all help you make your decision.

First Week of School:

  • Inform the students that they will be leading their own conferences  and why so that this does not come as a surprise to them later in the year.
  • This is an overall philosophy so make sure you have ways to gather their learning whether in journals, portfolios or some place for them to gather evidence.
  • Student-ownership of learning should be from day one.  A constant question in your classroom should be, “How are you doing and what do you need work on next?”
  • Plant the seeds for student goal setting and help them set goals starting now.  I start this on my beginning of the year student questionnaire.

Two Weeks Prior:

  • Have a classroom discussion to discuss the learning.  What have you explored since we started, what are major themes, where have we been heading?
  • Then discuss assessment.  How do you get assessed?  How do you assess yourself?  What are district assessment tools?  How do you know how you have been doing?
  • Discuss performance – how will the students assess themselves?  This can be daunting for some kids and so a class discussion or small group discussion is often a great way to get started.
  • Student self-reflection time – Students should have plenty of time to continue their reflection of themselves as learners.  This should be a continuation of what you have been doing since the first day.
  • Student preparation sheet – this sheet can be tweaked to fit your needs and I often have students bring this to the conference as a support.  I have a general one and a specific 5th grade spring preparation sheet.  I often project these and ask students for feedback and we tweak the form to fit their needs before I give them copies of this.  And this fall I actually updated my sheet – I like this one a lot better!
  • Start reminding parents that students are leading this and therefore must be present at their conference – I put it in newsletters and in general emails.

One Week Prior:

  • Check in with whole class – are there major questions or confusion that needs to be addressed?
  • Individual check-in with students.  “Walk me through your evidence and what you want to show your parents.”
  • Give them time to gather the evidence that they want to show their parents, make copies, find work etc.  I hand them a folder to keep it all in.
  • Think of ways you can showcase the classroom.  Last year we had QR codes parents could scan that would show off different videos from our classroom.
  • Continue to remind parents that students must be present.

Day Off:

  • Role-play a conference with a student in front of the whole class.  Often students are anxious about the experience, so doing a fishbowl demonstration really helps settle nerves and answer any last minute questions.
  • Have each child check their folders for everything they need.
  • At the end of the day, my students leave their folders and what they may need right on their table.  That way when they come in they can grab it and not waste any time.
  • Have students remind their parents that they must be present.  (It seems like overkill, but every year without fail a parent shows up without their child).


  • Welcome and introduce the concept of student-led conference.
  • Showcase the parent list of questions  (I laminate a copy and leave it on the table) and encourage parents to jump in.
  • Let the student do their thing.

Final minutes:

  • Take the last few minutes to wrap up and address any parent concerns.  Ask if another meeting needs to be scheduled.
  • Hand over student questionnaire and parent questionnaire and ask them to bring it back the next day.
  • Repeat the students goals and make a note of them (I use one of my teacher sheets and always tell parents I will give them a copy of the sheet).
  • Make sure students leave behind their preparation sheets, these are great to pull out for the next round of conferences as they prepare for them and reflect back on the year.

That’s really it for me.  I have all of the forms I use on this page, please feel free to use and adapt to fit your needs.  If you have any questions, just reach out, my email is p (at) globalreadaloud (dot) com

being a teacher, conferences, global, global read aloud

The Global Read Aloud – My Session From The Global Education Conference 2011

This week I had the thrill of presenting at The Global Education Conference on my passion; The Global Read Aloud.  This 30 minute or so presentation was recorded, so if you would like to hear it “live” here is the link.

You can also see my slides below, I am not sure they will make much sense though without the audio.  I tend to not do a lot of text.

being a teacher, conferences, Student-centered

A Student-Led Conference

There they sit, hands clutching the paper, eyes shifting a little back and forth; the responsibility clearly weighing on them and yet…If you look a little closer, you will also notice poise, presence, and a sneaking calm.  The students are ready to state their goals, to own their learning; welcome to student-led conferences.

Most of these students have never been given the control of their conference so they are more nervous than they need to be, in fact, I think they get a little glimpse of how many teachers feel.  They want to do well, they want to be able to answer the questions, they want to offer their parents hope and positivity.  Yet they are not afraid to bare their shortcomings, they are not afraid to discuss what the path ahead looks like.  They own their education.

I leave the meetings exhilarated and proud, we shared our journey and we previewed our path.  Parents had tough questions but the students were honest in their answers.  Parents leave feeling satisfied, proud of their children, and part of the process.

As educators, we wonder how we lose the engagement of our students and then do conferences to them.  We do education to our students acting as if they have nothing at stake, pretending to be the one true expert that will fill the empty vessels.  Even if we do student-centered learning, we then forget to shape our conferences on the same model; less me, more them.  I could never go back to the old conferences.

classroom expectations, conferences, grades, letter to Jeremy, students

Why Top Down isn’t Always Bad

This letter is part of a series of letters taking place between  Jeremy Macdonald @MrMacnology, a 5th grade teacher in Oregon, and Pernille Ripp @4thgrdteacher, 4th grade teacher in Wisconsin; two educators who for the first time are attempting a no grades classroom, as well as limited homework.  We share our thoughts and struggles with creating the best learning environment for our students so that others may learn something as well.  To see the other letters, please visit us here or here.

Hello again,
Initially I was going to start out with more questions in reply to your post, and yes, it is a total reflection of my personality, and then I thought why not reflect a little and then bombard you with questions later?
So I get the time restraint when it came to sharing student grades with them before report cards went home.  I send mine home tomorrow and getting to all 25 students last week was a stretch but I am so glad I did.  Each child was asked to reflect on their own grades – I have to give letter grades – and then meet with me.  The scale is simple A = Secure, B = developing and C = Beginning.  You know how I feel about students failing in 4th grade so that simply is not an option for a grade.  And besides, aren’t we so vigorously trying to push our students further away from equating learning with a grade?  Anyway, this format turned out to be informative and wonderful.  Most students rated their knowledge level at the same point as I would have, some were way too harsh on themselves leading to in-depth conversations about self-esteem and math, in particular.  Some, of course, were not even quite sure what the grades meant and had therefore thought A’s looked pretty good.  There were tougher conversations but in the end I felt good and I think the kids did too.  See, there will be no ugly surprises tomorrow.  No hiding report cards from parents.  Or pretending to not care about that stupid thing anyway.  I remember feeling like I betrayed the kids on their report cards in earlier years; where was their warning before this had to be taken home?  Instead, the students feel that they know why they are getting the grade they are getting and also that they have the responsibility for that grade.  No longer is the grade the final product of the trimester but rather the beginning of the next one.  What do we know and where do we need to go with it?  Relief…
Ok, I get the learning is learning and we must be excited about all of it.  But can’t we just admit to ourselves that bringing technology into the room does appear more exciting than just plain old paper and pencil?  Of course, this is a broad generalization fore there are times when paper and pen are best, but come on, let’s be honest here; those kids light up when they can incorporate anything tech into the lesson.  Perhaps in 20 years, paper and pencil will be the novel thing to do and will reclaim some of its lost glory.  
My final point about setting students up for disappointment leads me to another falsehood that we as teachers love to repeat to ourselves when we worry about passing students on the following year.  “All students will adapt and grow to love that classroom and learning environment!”  We pacify ourselves with that statement enough to where we can find ourselves repeating it when having discussions about different learning environments.  I think it is bogus.  I remember years that I hated going to school simply because the learning environment was stodgy and boring and nothing like what I was used to.  Of course, students are adaptable and flexible and all that, but shouldn’t we have some sort of technology consensus or minimum of integration at a school at least?  And yes I am dreaming for I know what I am up against but sometimes top-down decisions can prove to be a blessing in disguise.  Now who to persuade on that?
And hey, Macdonald,”Ripp” is what one of my favoritest students on the spectrum calls me.  No titles, no formalities, just a name.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

conferences, letter to Jeremy, technology

Are We Setting Students up for Failure?

This letter is part of a series of letters taking place between  Jeremy Macdonald @MrMacnology, a 5th grade teacher in Oregon, and Pernille Ripp @4thgrdteacher, 4th grade teacher in Wisconsin; two educators who for the first time are attempting a no grades classroom, as well as limited homework.  We share our thoughts and struggles with creating the best learning environment for our students so that others may learn something as well.  To see the other letters, please visit us here or here.
Hi Jeremy,
I am so glad to hear that conferences went well. There we both were, sweating over every single detail and once again our fears got the better of us.  My parents loved it.  No one asked any questions as to what grade their child should be getting but instead asked pointed questions to their children about their learning.  As you may have realized, I have gotten hooked on student-led conferences as well in the process.  So maybe this shows us too that we have done our job well as well.  We have prepared our parents as much as we prepare our students.  We let them know from the beginning what type of environment we envision and then we follow our own guidelines.  No surprises means no anger.  I do wonder how you ended up doing your report cards in that you say some students were surprised?   Had you not shown them to them beforehand or discussed it with them?  I am liberally borrowing the idea from Joe Bower in setting grades with the kids, that way there won’t be any surprises or confusion.  I agree, we continue this path and we adjust and continue, knowing that it is the right way to go.
I too am tech-obsessed.  I like to blame it on my parents who had one of the only original apple computers in town.  My students know that I have this obsession and they love it.  And yet, like you, I ponder whether my obsession is a healthy one and whether it is educationally relevant to the students?  So every time I choose to introduce a new tool for the students I have to know why.  Is it just for playing or is it an integral part of the learning process.  My students blog because we are learning to connect with an audience and to cater our writing to specific purposes.  Blogging also has the added excitement of responses from other people rather than just plain old me.  And yet, we write by hand every day as well.  One teacher told me that they thought students needed to learn how to write before they moved on to typing.  She therefore did not want students doing technology “stuff.”  I was hurt and confused by her comment, knowing that she was directing it at me and the approach I have taken and I didn’t get what she meant as I see the two as one in the same.  I can just as easily write a story by pencil as by typing.  To me that seems to be an excuse to keep students away from technology.
There have been times though where I have had to stop myself, though.  I know that my students get much more excited when they get to use technology but some times learning has to come from books and from discussion.  Not from a movie, or a voicethread, or some other computer related activity.  How do we set up our students for excitement about that type of learning?  Is there a way to combine the two?  Or will the technology always win because it is a gadget.  Are we, in truth, by being techy teachers, doing our students a disservice by setting them up for perpetual disappointment when they move on to teachers that do not embrace it as fully as we do?  Are we instead of helping shape 21st century students, shaping kids that will more quickly become disillusioned in a classroom because their teacher does not embrace technology?  Should teachers even be allowed to not incorporate technology into their lessons?
We will always be advocates for learning, that is the nature of our job, but what we must deliberate on every day is whether a tool will enhance learning or merely dress it up to become easier to digest?  I take an unpopular stance when I say that I feel interactive whiteboards are not all that they are hailed to be for learning purposes, although I agree that they catch children’s’ attention very well.   And that’s it, isn’t it?  Do we use technology to get the attention of our students or do we use it properly to teach them something?  
I fear I left you with more questions than answers.  Yet they are important ones that I struggle with on a daily basis.  And I wish I could say that I had typed this on my Ipad, however Santa has yet to decide whether I have been good enough to deserve one of those for Christmas or not.  I swear I have…

being a teacher, conferences, learning, new teacher, parents, students

Let Them Speak – Why Student Led Conferences are the Right Choice

I admit it; yesterday morning even I thought I was crazy.  I was getting ready to unleash my students in their first student led conferences and with no experience to fall back upon, those 24 super nervous students were freaking me out.  And then something magical happened; it worked!  The students took their parents through an eloquent journey of their learning, and more importantly, flaunted their knowledge while setting new goals for themselves.  I am sold.This beauty of the student-led conference was not something invented by me; in fact, many people have blazed the trail on this and I have even heard of kids as young as 1st grade leading their own conference.  Therefore when I decided this year that the classroom was no longer all about me, I was intrigued by the idea of also “allowing” students to run their own conferences.  Every year, I am exhausted and exhilarated after these.  Exhilarated, because it is a thing of beauty to discuss success, progress and goals with parents – exhausted because I talked and talked for 20 minutes a kid two or three nights in a row. Although students have always been required to be at their conference with me (why discuss them if they are not there to hear it) they were never really engaged.  Conferences for them were a way for me to tell their parents how they were doing, and as such, a passive act for them, something they were required to listen to but not be full participants in.  This year,  I knew it had to be different.Always a believer in preparation, I decided that much as I prepare for conferences so must my students.  We therefore discussed the purpose of them until everyone understood that conferences were there to show off their learning, not as a form of punishment or “telling” on them to their parents.  Then came the real work; what would they discuss?  I knew that these kids had never led a conference before and so they needed an agenda.   Students therefore received a 2-sided agenda from me with what I expected them to discuss. (Another valuable life skills happens to be how to lead a successful meeting so this proved practice in that as well).  They were given time in class to take notes for their conference if they felt they needed that to guide them; some did but not all, and they were able to ask any clarifying questions of the agenda and curriculum we had covered.  Students were also asked to self-assess both their writing and grade themselves.  I have to give them letter grades on their report card, even if I would prefer not to, and so they were asked to translate their performances and knowledge into grades.  It was eye-opening to see how harsh they could be when judging themselves.  Once students felt that they had everything prepared, we met to go over their papers.  They were given a folder in which they could place anything they wanted to show at the conference, including their notes.  And then we waited…

Our final question session was yesterday right before the first conference was to be held.  Students all placed their conference folders in a safe spot and took a deep breath.  I showed no nerves, even though inside I was second-guessing this decision with every teacher-bone in my body.  It wasn’t that I thought students couldn’t do it, but more that I wondered whether parents would get it.  Would they see that this wasn’t just a way for me to “get out of” conferences, but rather a much better way for the same information to be delivered?  I am glad I was proven so wrong.

While some students did better than others, 1 never showed up, and 3 parents forgot to bring their kids, it was still incredible to hear and see the kids share their learning.  Parents were given a recommended question sheet but most did not need it.  They knew which questions to ask their children and I became what I should be; an accessory to the conversation.  I jumped in when clarification was needed or if a child judged themselves too harshly.  Otherwise I helped guide a little and then just listened and what I learned was so valuable.  I got a better grip on how secure some of my students were than I could have ever gotten from just observing them in the classroom or let alone given them a worksheet.  I also got to see another side of my students as they spoke to their parents, in essence representing themselves as members of my class to the outside world.  I know what I have to repeat in class and what students get.  I know what has made an impression on them and what I should skip next year.  But the best part of all of this was the pride these kids took.  And not just in their work, or their grades, but in doing the conference themselves.  The parents noticed too and I therefore must declare these my most successful conferences to date. I am thankful for the advice given to me regarding student-led conferences and I hope this will inspire others to try it as well.  If you let your students lead; you will be amazed.  I know I was, and for that I am thankful (and proud!).

I have all of the forms I use available here