This term my division (Kindergarten to Grade 6) introduced Student-Led Conferences as a method of reporting student learning to parents. This was the first time we formally held these conferences and it was a learning experience for everyone. Although I had not conducted student led conferences myself before, I had heard a lot about them and had done some research. We were also fortunate to have another teacher on staff who had done them before. One excellent resource that my team used was from The Ontario Ministry of Education: Student-Led Conference Webcast Series.
Preparations for student-led conferences took various forms. Beginning in September students began keeping a portfolio of their work samples with reflections attached. I have chosen to have my students do a hybrid-portfolio with a traditional paper/binder component and a web-based electronic portfolio (Kidblog.org). I think that this provides a nice balance for keeping record of students work in different forms of media depending on the task. It also allows the web-based electronic component to be accessible to parents at any time, so students can be frequently sharing those components with parents. In the portfolio binder, students have divided their binder into various sections – Math, Language, Units of Inquiry x 6, Specialty Subjects, Extra-Curricular, and place any work samples they would like into the binder. Most students want to select samples that would be considered their best work, but students are welcome to place any work samples inside. All formal assessments (i.e. math assessments, summative tasks, published writing) are also included in to the portfolio.
Approximately 1 week prior to the student led conferences, students began role-playing their student led conferences. As this was our first time doing these, it was also the first time for many of the students so this was a really important phase for developing their comfort level and confidence. Each student selected 2 pieces of work that they wanted to share with their parents – 1 piece from a homeroom lesson (i.e. math, language, unit of inquiry), and 1 piece from a specialty subject (i.e. french, music, art, phys.ed). If students wanted to include a performance in their portfolio from a task, students were able to use video recording equipment and show their parents a video during the conference.
The evening of student led conferences, appointments were made so that students would arrive every 5 minutes and stay for 15 minutes (i.e. 4:30-4:45, 4:35-4:50). This would mean that there would be 3 or 4 families in the classroom at any given time to allow for appropriate space. When the parents arrived, they were provided with a generic list of questions developed by our PYP Coordinator that they could ask their child to help them explain their work. Very quickly it was clear that 15 minutes would not be enough time, as once students began sharing they were quickly headed in their desk to find more things, over to the iPads, and to get their French binder. It seemed like sharing was infectious! The smiles on their faces as they were showing off their work was wonderful! Luckily, I my schedule was not full so the room was never over crowded but in the future I would schedule the conferences every 10 minutes for 20-30 minutes.
Following the conference, in class students were asked to blog about their experience! The feedback from the students was very positive. A lot of students were surprised how interested their parents were in their work – the steps they took to learn it, what connections they made to the Learner Profile, questions they still have.
We are going to hold student-led conferences again in the spring and I am looking forward to seeing the development. I am hopeful that students will be able to show their growth from September by comparing their work from the beginning of the year with more current work.
Although portfolios do take a large amount of class time to manage and organize, when you host events such as student-led conferences it makes it clear that it is a good use of instructional time. I am going to continue looking for new strategies for students to reflect on their work/artifacts as this seems to be the most challenging part for students.