Upgrading Student Led Conferences

Recently, we (Team Dynamix 802) at Main Street Middle School) decided to re-examine the format of our student-led conferences. While we recognized the promise of having students lead our biannual gatherings, in practice, we were having a hard time getting students to carry the conversation and take ownership of the experience. Reflecting on our implementation, we decided to make some changes which, after two days of meeting with families, appear to have potential.

Script Writing

Rather than have students read a prepared script, we made the script-writing of the conference agenda a three day exercise in language arts. First, we had students review and reflect on their PLPs. Using a menu of activities, students identified places where evidence existed and space for adding artifacts of their growth and learning to their personalized learning plan.

After this review, and using resources from Edutopia, we created a graphic organizer to guide students through the process. Highlights included a source of pride and areas for growth. In addition to action steps and resources, students also identified how parents and teachers could help them with these areas of growth.

Practice Presentations

After students completed the drafts of their student-led conference script, we developed a discussion protocol for reviewing and practicing the presentations. Students and a partner each practiced their presentation while the other assessed their performance using a checklist and speaking rubric. Students were coached in a variety of strategies to help with their presentations including repeated reading, the use of Post-it notes for reminders, and multiple opportunities for practice.

Conferences = Feedback = Better Relationships

At the conferences, I was struck by how effectively students were able to use their scripts, and the prompts regarding sources of pride and areas of growth, to articulate their strengths and challenges. Several times, students mentioned sources of pride that I either 1) did not expect or 2) were related to extracurricular experiences that I might never have heard about without the conference venue. This feedback was invaluable and will help me build stronger relationships with these students now that I understand a little bit more about what motivates them.

Feedback, Part 2

As students were speaking and engaging with conference participants, I utilized our team's learning expectations document to take notes and highlight specific learning dispositions identified by the students as areas of growth. These notes will now be incorporated into the trimester reflection.

Closing the Circle

Each trimester, students write a standards-based reflection that highlights their growth and learning and what goals they want to set moving forward. Typically, that is a stand alone writing exercise.

However, with our work preparing for the student-led conferences, much of the prewriting has been completed. Essentially, the conference scripts dovetail with our reflective practice. Next week, with their PLP review, scripts, and conference notes, students will be well-prepared to draft those reflections.

Our writing process, which now includes the student-led conference and verbal articulation of achievement and growth, has transformed into a holistic experience that supports a wide range of literacy and transferable skills.

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