Parent-Teacher Conferences can be very frustrating for all involved. The parents may or may not have had a good previous experience in school and feel uncomfortable in the atmosphere. The teacher who has to prepare all the materials, must give only a snapshot of the student because there is only so much time during the allotted night; usually only 15 minutes until another parent comes through the door. Lastly, the students are nervous as they wait at home for mom or dad to come home and “discuss” their report card. All are involved in such a minuscule way and never really involved at all. The choice I have made in my classroom is to hold student-led conferences.
While there are many books and ideas about how little or far you can go with them, I will give you a condensed version of what preparation is required in my classroom to pull off a successful evening for all students, teachers, and parents:
1. To begin preparing, my students have biweekly data folders in which they graph their scores in three different subjects (spelling test scores, Accelerated Reader weekly points, and standardized practice test scores). They also reflect on one positive and one negative from the weeks to improve on. The two week’s worth of work is sent home in the folder, along with a print out of all their scores thus far in the grading quarter. Students are required to bring back the folder, along with the work inside, signed by the parent within one week after distributing. This data folder will set the groundwork for student internalization of their own work.
2. Two weeks before the student led conferences are to happen, I copy all the reflection pages and inserts which will become their portfolio. Parent volunteers help me to insert 5 tabbed dividers into three-ring binders, as well as resorting the returned work from the data folders back into the portfolios under the proper tab.
3. One week before the student conferences is when the real work begins. (Note: this organization and preparation of the portfolios takes approximately four to five 45-minute uninterrupted segments, BUT is well worth all the time invested in the end). The students will choose one example of an assignment from each subject area and reflect on why he or she chose that particular assignment. Students will also reflect on behaviors and set goals for the next grading quarter. Parents will also fill out a reflection form about how they see their child as a learner at home, which will also be placed into the portfolio. Overall, my third graders have 35 pages in their portfolios which include work samples, goal sheets, reflection sheets, and assessment explanations.
4. A few days before holding conferences, the students receive a script which specifies what the students are to say to their parents about each and every page. That way, anything I want the parents to know, the students will tell them. The students have a riot practicing holding mock conferences with others from the classroom.
5. Students create invitations to send to the parents to remind them about their conference and how excited they are for their parent to come (this is usually a huge parental incentive).
6. The day of the conferences, students will arrive with their parent(s), seat them, offer them a snack, and begin their conference. It becomes a conversation about learning that may take anywhere from 30-45 minutes, during which I sit at my desk so that I am available, but not intruding upon this educational exchange. Because I am not needed during the conference itself, I can schedule three to four conferences at one time. Of course, I am available and always check to see if any questions arise after the child has completed his or her conference.
The conversations heard throughout the night are worth 100 times the amount of effort involved in pulling it all together! Parents love the fact they are not rushed. Students now have a vested interest in their own learning because they have to explain it to their parents themselves. And I am thrilled I don’t have to herd parents in and out like livestock. The evening is always well-received and appreciated by all!