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Building Understanding of Student Led Conferences in the Parent Community

As the PYP Coordinator, part of my responsibility is to help educate the parents in our school community about various aspects of the Primary Years Programme. One tool that we use for parent education are ‘Coffee Mornings’ that are held approximately once per month. At these sessions, various informative topics are discussed and students are also given the opportunity to share their learning with the parent community.

This month, with student led conferences quickly approaching, I will be presented on the topic at a Parent Coffee Morning. For many of our ‘new’ families, student led conferences are not a type of reporting that they are familiar with so it is important to spend some time in advance of the event to provide them with the opportunity to learn about why we feel they are an important tool and how they can use this event to best support their child in the learning process.

As a PYP Coordinator, I am always looking for ways to help parents see how units of inquiry are structured with the essential elements of the programme so I took the opportunity to structure my presentation with the essential elements as my framework.

Central Idea: Student-led conferences empower students to take ownership of their learning by focusing on the process, successes and challenges.

Leaner Profile: Communicators, Reflective

Attitudes: Commitment, Confidence

Form: What is it? (Line of Inquiry: What is a student led conference?)
• Method of reporting student progress and achievement – one of many that we use (Formal: Learning Skills Reports, Parent Teacher Interviews, Report Cards, Informal: Test/Assignments coming home to be signed, Emails, Conversations)
• Conversation between student and parent about the learning process, not necessarily focused on the summative assessment or final grade but more so on the skills that were used in the learning process
• Celebration of learning

Causation: Why is it like it is? (Line of Inquiry: Why do we believe in Student-Led Conferences?)
• More reflective process, communicates how students are doing by also why
• Highlights student voice – what their strengths and challenges are, correlation between effort, progress, and understanding
• Help students to communicate their learning and processes to their parents – often helps make things visible that don’t appear on a traditional report card and might not happen in a regular conversation at home about school
• Provides students with the message that they are responsible for their own learning and success

Function: How does it work? (Line of Inquiry: What happens during a student led conference?)
Before
• Students and teachers prepare by selecting samples of work to build a ‘portfolio’ and reflecting on what those pieces of work demonstrate – best work, growth, challenge
• Students practice presenting and sharing their work and any other artifacts of learning that they would like to share

During
• Review student work and progress
• Teachers will provide parents with a list of questions that they can ask to help stimulate discussion
• Focus on how you can help your child and what your child need from you
• Depending on the grade level, may have a few short activities to do in the classroom, visit the specialist teachers

After
• Celebrate
• Set goals with your child or review habits (homework time, screen time, reading time)
• Use the student-led conference as a conversation builder to continue talking about the learning that has been happening at school

 

 

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Building ‘Leaders’ … even the quiet kind!

This year my class completed a VIA Character survey to identify their top strengths and those strengths that they do not use as frequently. One trend that I noticed within my class was that many of my quieter, more reserved students tended to have leadership as a strength that they did not use as frequently. This caused me to do some reflection and come up with some questions.

(1) What is the definition of leadership that the VIA survey uses?
(2) Did my students interpret the questions on the survey properly?
(3) Are we biased toward more charismatic and extrovert leaders, in comparison to the quieter more introvert type?
(4) Do my students know how to be leaders, other than the take charge and captain the ship? How can I teach them skills to be leaders in their own way?
(5) What is my students understanding of being a leader?

Some of these questions I can answer now and some I will need to go and break down with my students.

Question (1) What is the definition of leadership that the VIA survey uses? 

VIA has a detailed page outlining the characteristics of the strength, leadership. In working with Grade 6 students I think the most valuable aspect of the page is

“If Leadership is your top strength, you excel at encouraging a group to get things done and preserving harmony within the group by making everyone feel included. You do a good job organizing activities and seeing that they happen.” (VIACharacter.org, 2017

In breaking down that definition, I think that there are many ways that quieter students can take on a variety of group roles to help demonstrate leadership qualities as described here such as making everyone feel included, organizing, and maintaining accountability.

Question (2) Did my students interpret the questions on the survey properly? 

I am going to take some time to go through the VIA Survey and identify some questions that I think may be linked with the ‘Leadership’ strength and use these as discussion points with my class during advisory time.

Question (3) Are we biased toward more charismatic and extrovert leaders, in comparison to the quieter more introvert type? 

The work of Susan Cain and her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Cannot Stop Talking,  might provide some insight into this question. Although I have not read her book, I have seen her TED Talk around the same concept.

I am going to explore Quiet Revolution, to continue to learn more about the strengths of introverts.

In considering some of the strengths of my quieter students, I know that they are good listeners, are very observant and can spot strengths in others, often have strengths in judgement or prudence and remain calm in many situations. All of these qualities can be exercised to show leadership.
(4) Do my students know how to be leaders, other than the take charge and captain the ship? How can I teach them skills to be leaders in their own way? 

Again, this is another question that I can break down with my students in advisory time. In thinking about what types of skills I can focus on, I see real strength in teaching the kids to be ‘strengths spotters’ so that they can help everyone in the group feel valued and help identify ways to organize groups to be effective.
(5) What is my students understanding of being a leader? 

Again, this is another question that I can break down with my students in advisory time.

I am looking forward to seeing how with some intention, I can work on building leaders … even the quiet kind!

Using Student’s Strengths to Frame Parent-Teacher Interviews

This year my school has formed a partnership with Dr. Lea Waters and Visible Wellbeing. As part of this partnership, all faculty and staff participated in 2-days of intense training in August before the school year began. At this stage of the training we specifically looked at strengths and emotions as pathways to helping achieve their potential, or in the case of my school, flourish.

In preparing for Parent-Teacher interviews this year, I started my preparations slightly differently than I have in the past. During advisory, each student in my class had completed a VIA Character Survey that had identified a ranking of their strengths. Over the course of the year, we will do work in advisory helping students to develop a stronger understanding of their strengths but as a teacher, I found this to be a powerful tool for framing the conversation during Parent-Teacher interviews.

Prior to Parent-Teacher interviews, I looked at each child’s VIA survey and identified examples of ways in which I had observed them demonstrate some of their top strengths. As a teacher, I found it was much easier for me to zoom in on each child’s contributions to the classroom community individually when using the lens of VIA Character strengths. I also was able to look at some of the strengths that appeared lower on the ranking and think about if there were specific goals that could be set to help students utilize these strengths more frequently and have these formulated in advance. For example, I noticed there were a number of students where the character strengths ‘Leadership’ appeared lower on their ranking. As a result his might be an area that when working in groups or on teams this year, where that student could focus on stretching themselves and learning how to use that particular strength more strongly.

During the Parent-Teacher interviews, I would begin by presenting the parents with a copy of their child’s strengths report and in some cases goals that their child had set. In an ideal world, all of the students would have completed their own goals but in classrooms we sometimes just run out of time! I found that these two pieces of information were great conversation starters and really opened up the conversation about each child. Most parents found their child’s VIA Survey to be very accurate and it was also a great strategy for helping to educate parents about strategies we are using in the classroom to help make wellbeing visible. As a teacher, I found that my interviews this year were more conversational than in the past. This was a nice change as it allowed me to continue to get to know the students in my class better by hearing from their parents.

After Parent-Teacher interviews have been completed, I hope to circle back during our advisory program with the students and continue to help develop their own understanding of their character strengths.

Summer 2016 Reading

This summer, I was able to put a dent in the ‘to be read’ pile of books that was accumulating in my office. I don’t know about how other teachers feel, but I struggle to make my way through books during the school year at any pace that leads to any significant comprehension – there are just too many other things on the go.

After reading all of these books my mind is full of ideas and things that I want to try but I know that I need to be realistic in what I can focus on so that I will notice any change or improvements that occur.

The following are the books that I read this summer:

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Note: Over the past few years, I have used Goodreads to help me document the books that I have read and was to read in order to keep track. I like the visual organization method to trigger my memory and remind me to go back to a book I have read previously. It is also good for organizing books that are related to units that I teach within my class. It helps me to keep running records of books I have read and link to other books students might find interesting.

Strengths based approach to bringing the ATL skills to life

This year, during the PYP Exhibition I decided that I wanted to try a new approach to incorporating all of the Approaches to Learning (ATL) formerly the PYP Transdisciplinary Skills. Over the course of a students PYP ‘Career’ these skills are meaningfully incorporated across all units of inquiry.

Viewing the PYP Exhibition as an opportunity for students to display who they are as learners and work collaboratively together I was looking for a new strategy to bring share students strengths and increase collaboration in a meaningful way. At the beginning of our PYP Exhibition unit, students completed a self-assessment rating scale about all of the ATL skills. They then selected a skill which they felt they could be a community expert in to offer advice and mentoring for students who may need support with that skills during the exhibition process.

IMG_2340Students completed a large cue card that featured the name of the skill, a tip for the skill, and their name so if another student wanted to seek them out for help they knew who to ask. After the cue cards were completed, I hung them in the hallway under the ‘categories’ so they would be in a visible location. This is a far away picture of the board not quite completed.

After doing this activity, I found it to be very valuable for students to see these as skills that we are constantly developing and improving. It was also important for them to realize that there are different people in the class who have different strengths and they can support each other. I would like to use this type of board again next year, but not wait until PYP Exhibition to introduce it but rather be a living component of the classroom that is updated and changed in various units.