Student-Led Conferences: Practical Guide & Resources

Have you ever felt parent teacher conferences become a blur of shallow compliments and trite suggestions?  Have you ever worried about the quality of students’ involvement?  Do you want parents to gain more meaningful insight on how their children spend 7 hours a day, 5 days a week?  Then consider shifting to student led conferences!


Background

After a couple years of traditional parent teacher conferences, I began to doubt their value.  Attendance was patchy, and the bulk of meetings that did take place often felt inconsequential.  Given the vast expenditure of time and energy in preparations, conferences generally seemed to yield trivial returns–goals quickly forgotten, behavior largely unchanged, and work samples simply discarded.  All that changed when my school introduced student-led conferences.

Step-by-Step Guide

Note that this is geared toward upper-elementary.  However, it can easily be adapted for younger and older students–our entire school adopted student-led conferences. 

Stage #1: Introduce Student-Led Conferences to Students (Estimated time: 30 min)
  • Kathy Cassidy
    Kathy Cassidy

    Give a labeled folder to each student to keep conference materials organized.

  • Hand out the “During Conference Checklist” students will use.  With this, students should:
    • Write down 2 items or areas of the classroom they want to share during the first part of conferences.
    • Write down their current feelings about reading, writing, math, and behavior.
    • Choose a writing and math sample. (I had my students keep their portfolios on blogs, so I gave them the option to present digital samples as well).
  • Give students their report cards, progress reports, and/or other records that are to be shared during conferences.  Let them know they need to be familiar with everything on it, so to ask for clarification as needed.
Stage #2: Make Goals (Estimated time: 45 min.)
  • Brainstorm as a class possible areas for improvement in math, reading, writing, and behavior.
  • Teach class about writing goals according to your school or grade level standards.  Our team used SMART goals (s=specific, m=measurable, a=attainable, r=relevant, t=time-bound).  I also like Kath Murdoch’s idea of 1-word goal-making.
  • Have them write 1 goal for each subject area on the brainstorming sheet and turn them in.
  • Give back to students to write their final goals after you have reviewed them.
Stage #3: Meet with each student (est. time: 5 min. per student)
  • Make sure their conference folder has all required items in order (I gave each student this list to organize their work.  I also post it on the whiteboard, and have students sign up to meet with me once their folders are completely ready).
  • Double-check the finalized goals.
  • If your grading system has a “social skills” or behavior field, consider having the student self-grade with you.  Have a discussion on what each grade means (ie, 4 means “I rarely need reminders or help in this area,” 3 means “I sometimes need reminders and I could work on this area,” etc.).  Not only have I found that students are often harder on themselves than I am, but the increased ownership better prepares them for sometimes tough conversations with their parents.
  • Go over the “During Conference” checklist together.  Discuss any questions on how to present each area.
Stage #4: Final Preparations
  • Send letters home to parents from teacher and/or from students to prepare them for student-led conferences. If you want to provide questions in advance to help prepare parents, students, and yourself, check out our printable Student-Led Conferences Guided Questions list!
  • Have students practice going over their checklist with a classmate (tell them they can leave out sensitive items like their report cards).  Use a stopwatch to give them a realistic idea of the timeframe.
Stage #5: After Conference Tips

Student and Parent Response

After each conference, I surveyed parents and students.  Below is some of the feedback I frequently received.

Meme
Meme Binge

Students loved:

  • Removing the frightening anticipation of grown-ups discussing unknown issues during conferences (avoiding situations such as the one on the right).
  • The opportunity to “show off” some of the things they were most proud of.
  • How professional they felt as they took the lead.

Parents loved:

  • How knowledgeable students were about their own progress and responsibilities.
  • Students taking the lead with the teacher helping where needed.
  • How students explained their report cards themselves.
  • The pride and ownership students took in showing their work.

Pitfalls to Avoid

  • Time allocations: Make sure there’s plenty of time for parents to ask questions and have further, informative discussions as needed!
  • Inadequate student practice: Let students practice at least 2 times in class.  This will help them with both confidence and purposeful time management.
  • Inadequate student organization: Use the conference folder items list to go through every item as an entire class one more time right before conferences start.
  • Hesitation to Jump In: One parent voiced concern that problems were sugar-coated, and that she could not speak freely because of the student’s presence.  Let your students know beforehand that in order for conferences to be effective, everyone needs to be 100% on the same page, and that you will redirect the conversation if necessary.
  • Unengaging Parent Homework: At first, we assigned parents to write a letter to their children reflecting on their feelings about the conference.  However, very few parents completed the assignment.  We switched to emailing a Google Form survey for them to share feedback on conferences.  Some of the questions we asked included:
    • What made you feel proud?
    • Do you feel your student’s goals match the areas in which he/she can improve?  If not, what are additional areas in which you feel he/she can improve?
    • How can you help your student remember and succeed at his/her goals at home?

List of Resources Linked Throughout:

Photo Credit: 

Featured Image: Claire Burge

Kathy Cassidy

Meme Binge

5 Ways to Make Veteran’s Day Meaningful

Veteran’s Day is observed on November 11 each year, the anniversary of the day World War I ended.  Help your students to truly appreciate our veterans’ sacrifices by selecting one or more of the ideas listed here.


#1: Gallery Wall of Veteran Photos

Author's Great-Uncle Milton Brown
Author’s Great-Uncle Milton Brown

On Veteran’s Day, ask your students to bring a photo of a veteran they know.  It could be a parent, aunt, cousin, great-grandfather, or even a neighbor.  Have students bring the following:

  • An 8×10 copy of their veteran’s photo
  • An index card with information that includes:
    • Veteran’s name
    • Student’s name & relationship to veteran
    • Term of service
    • Branch of service and rank
    • Country for which the veteran served
    • Any notable information about the service

Keep the photos posted in your halls for a few weeks–not only does this beautifully honor those who have served, but it also is perfect to renew the feelings of gratitude that we seek to magnify throughout the Thanksgiving season.

#2: Poppies & Poetry

Poppies are a classic, but not all your students may be aware of their significance. Choose a way to share “In Flanders Fields” with your students, whether you simply read the text and background, watch a video, or show a picture book.  (Alternatively, share Cheryl Dyson’s poem for a piece suited for very young audiences).  Then, ask students to find meaningful ways they can express their understanding and appreciation for this poem:

#3: Letters to Soldiers

Have students write letters expressing gratitude to a soldier.  Mail these to soldiers at your closest military base or visit websites like Operation Gratitude.  Students could also share their pieces created in the above Poppies & Poetry activity.

#4: Introduce the Veteran’s History Project

The Battle of Đắk Tô was a series of major engagements of the Vietnam War that took place between November 3 to 22, 1967, in Kon Tum Province, in the Central Highlands of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). At 09:43 on 19 November, the three companies (330 men) of 2/503 moved into jumpoff positions from which to assault Hill 875. Charlie and Delta companies moved up the slope followed by two platoons of Alpha Company in the classic "two up one back" formation utilized since World War I. The Weapons Platoon of Alpha remained behind at the bottom of the hill to cut out a landing zone. Instead of a frontal assault with massed troops, the unit would have been better served by advancing small teams to develop possible North Vietnamese positions and then calling in air and artillery support.  At 10:30, as the Americans moved to within 300 meters of the crest, PAVN machine gunners opened fire on the advancing paratroopers. Then B-40 rockets and 57mm recoilless rifle fire were unleashed upon them. The paratroopers attempted to continue the advance, but the North Vietnamese, well concealed in interconnected bunkers and trenches, opened fire with small arms and grenades. The American advance was halted and the men went to ground, finding whatever cover they could. At 14:30 PAVN troops hidden at the bottom of the hill launched a massed assault on Alpha Company. Unknown to the Americans, they had walked into a carefully prepared ambush by the 2nd Battalion of the 174th PAVN Regiment. The men of Alpha Company retreated up the slope, lest they be cut off from their comrades and annihilated. They were closely followed by the North Vietnamese. All that prevented the company-strength North Vietnamese onslaught from overrunning the entire battalion was the heroic efforts of American paratroopers who stood their ground and died to buy time for their comrades. Soon, U.S. air strikes and artillery fire were being called in, but they had little effect on the battle because of th
Robert Couse-Baker

This project was started by Congress in 2000, and is sponsored by AARP.  The goal is to “collect, preserve, and make accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.”  As a class, you could:

  • Discuss the interview questions listed in the Field Kit, and practice interview skills in class.
  • Complete the VHP preparations as a class:
    • 15-minute Field Kit Companion Video
    • Search the collections database
    • Print forms
    • Register for the VHP RSS feed (and add to your class blog if you have one!)
  • Locate a veteran to interview (either a student’s family member or someone found in a local veterans service organization), then hold the interview in class if he or she can make it, or by phone.
  • While volunteer student interviewers must be 10th graders or older, younger students can participate in interviewing family members.  Additionally, donations are welcome, so your class could alternatively hold a fundraiser for the project!

#5: Favorite Videos

 

Photo Credit:

3 Practical Formative Assessments

When you barely have time to suck down occasional gulps of air amid swells of paperwork, it’s understandable to lose some perspective.  Unfortunately, this is a condition many teachers face when it comes to approaching formative versus summative assessments.


 

Opportunity for impact?

But how important is it, really, to keep track of such minute details on student progress?  Well, Google defines formative as, “serving to form something, especially having a profound and lasting influence on a person’s development.”  Black and Wiliam found “that innovations which include strengthening the practice of formative assessment produce significant, and often substantial, learning gains.”  And we have discovered teacher-student relationships become elevated as students recognize just how invested teachers are in their daily progress–not just in what they produce at the end of units.

The nature of the beast

Formative assessments do not cast the intimidating shadow of their summative counterparts.  They are so authentically woven into the day, it can feel almost spontaneous as you uncover quiet learning moments, pinpointing students’ true understanding. Meanwhile, summatives are not only highly concrete and measurable, but they’re also accompanied by pressure for results–pressure that may come from administrators, parents, politicians, and even sometimes teachers themselves.

Educator’s catch 22

And so, we run into the classic teacher dilemma: on the one hand, we know part of the value of formative assessments lies their authentic, unassuming quality; on the other, it is precisely that quality that makes it easy for them to slip under the radar.   The key is to make a plan for a record-keeping strategy that works for you.  This sounds easy enough, but it does take a little trial and error as you find one or more methods that feel comfortable and easily accessible in the flow of your classroom.  Below are a few personal favorites, all of which have functioned well in various contexts.

3 Strategies

1. Confer App
Image retrieved from Conferapp.com
Image retrieved from Conferapp.com

This is the Mary Poppins carpet bag of education apps.  No matter how full I’d pack in anecdotal notes for each student, it stayed organized and easy to navigate.  It was also easy to share with parents during parent-teacher conferences.  Some details I appreciated include:

  • The option to sort notes in practical ways, including by student names, groups, and feedback.
  • A design in that’s conducive to appropriate feedback with fields like “strength,” “teaching point,” and “next step”–great to remind teachers to look for what’s going well along with what needs work.
  • The ability to apply one note to multiple students simultaneously–and the fact that it saves a previously-used note so you don’t have to type out the same phrase again.
  • The color coded flags to remind you who currently needs some extra support.

Note: At first, some students were unsure about my typing on my phone during our discussions–they worried I was texting, or otherwise distracted.  Be sure to introduce this method of note-taking to your whole class, telling them exactly how you are using your phone during your conferences.

2. Notecard Waterfalls

This one is a bit old-school, but I found it especially handy for reading groups.  I would write each student’s name on one notecard, sort them into their groups, and then tape them into a waterfall on half a piece of laminated cardstock per group.  (see photos below) I found this to be the perfect place to keep tallies for simplified running records and reading notes.  After a student would read aloud, I would say something like this:

“Ok, I’m writing that you are rocking your punctuation expression.  You paused appropriately at every comma and period!  I’m also writing that we’re working on paying attention to the endings of words, since you left off -ing and -s a couple times as you read.  Do you want me to add anything else for us to remember next time we work on reading together?”

This kind of feedback was quick and simple, but extremely effective as it kept us both on the same page.  Another bonus: when a card would fill up, I could easily throw it in the student’s file and pop in another one.

Waterfall booklet

3. Status of the Class
Image retrieved from Teacher Supply Store
Image retrieved from Teacher Supply Store

Status of the Class is the perfect tool to keep track of student-driven projects or independent work time.  Simply call out each student’s name, and then jot down their selected task on a class list.  This works well for long-term processes involving steps, stages, or centers with which the students are already familiar, such as the Writer’s Workshop, the scientific method, or math or literacy stations.  Some advantages include:

  • Stay informed of where you can coach students in their individual processes.
  • Teach students metacognition as you require them to give a brief statement explaining both the what and the why of their choice. (I would periodically model how that would sound right before taking Status of the Class to remind them how to explain their choice.  For example:  “I’m working on illustrating because I want to better visualize how to describe my characters,” or “I’m going to read to myself because I just got to a cliff-hanger in my book.”
  • Keep track of students who seem to be stuck in one place.
  • Maintain accountability for students who may get off-task during independent learning time.
  • If appropriate, give on-the-spot feedback as you help students learn to spend independent time wisely (ie, “I see you’ve chosen that 3 times in a row here.  How else could you spend your time to help you grow?”)

Tips: Use wet-erase marker to write on a laminated class list chart, such as the one pictured, and keep it posted in the room so students can also keep track of how they’ve been spending their time.  Make a key for your abbreviations on the bottom.

What are some of your favorite methods for practical formative assessments?

Featured Image: Elli Pálma via Flickr Creative Commons

5 Teacher Resources for 21st Century Learning

Whether you’re implementing a BYOD classroom, teaching students to develop PLN’s, or planning a Twitter debate in your class, these 5 tools may help you with some unexpected logistics.


The Importance of Keeping Up

Anyone involved with teaching today is familiar the swift and exponential nature of changes in 21st century education.  This is true to the extent that even if you graduated with your teaching degree within the past few years, your pedagogical training probably did not leave you fully prepared.  We hope that the following 5 resources will be valuable to you as you adapt to modern learning strategies.

#1: Citing Social Media
via TeachBytes
via TeachBytes

We recently published a post designed as a student guide to social media citation.  However, this may prove helpful for you, too, as you guide your students not only toward broader digital literacy, but toward continuing the responsibility of adequately giving credit.

#2: Google Drive Hacks

If you are not already using Google Drive in your classroom, add it to your must-try-asap list!  From elementary school on up, it enables effective digital collaboration.  As an added bonus, it cuts down messy stacks of papers!  Below, we’ve listed a few of our favorite time and sanity-saving tips to maximize your Google Drive usage in the classroom:

  • Teach students to use the “Comments” tool for peer editing and revising.  That way, students can have actual conversations about the feedback they give one another without actually altering others’ work!
  • Self-grading function: If you are currently using or are interested in using Google Forms to quiz students (for free!), make sure you look up how to make it self-grading!  (Check out one tutorial here!)
  • Revision history: Make sure that both you and your students are familiar with this tool in the “File” menu just in case one student accidentally alters or deletes another’s work.
  • Take Advantage of its share-ability: Long-gone are the days of needing to upload each student’s PowerPoint to a flash drive (see our article on Powerpoint alternatives), or even asking them to individually email you their digital project.  Instead, have students create all projects that are compatible with Google Drive in one class Google account that you can easily access and manage.
  • Use Google Spreadsheets for a multi-purpose class roster: Keeping track of missing permission slips, student project groups, or anecdotal notes is a cinch with Google Spreadsheets.  Google Drive’s app makes this especially appealing as you can whip out your phone or tablet to view your notes as you walk through the class!
#3: Digital Classroom Management Tips:

Establishing quality classroom management strategies is a critical skill for every educator.  However, such techniques can quickly get complicated when BYOD is introduced–how do you manage a variety of phones, tablets, and laptops when such devices can already be distracting?  Jennifer Carey, a director of educational technology, shared her top 5 tips for digital classroom management in an Edudemic article, from setting clear expectations, to recognizing that it’s OK to put the technology away at times!

#4: PLP’s Twitter Handbook:

Instrumental for me in discovering the professional usefulness of Twitter was a handbook released by the Powerful Learning Practice Blog. It includes very specific details on how to get started, definitions, and practical uses! Especially if you’re still unaware of Twitter’s usefulness in the classroom, this resource is an absolute must! (We reference it and more in our Twitter’s classroom potential post).

#5: Fluency Poster by Delia Jenkins:

In the 21st century, students need to be less familiar with memorizing specific facts and more familiar with how to manage it all.  Author & educator Eric Jensen states it well in the following image:

via Larry Ferlazzo
via Larry Ferlazzo

One way we can cultivate this shift is to foster digital fluency in our students and ourselves.  One excellent resource as you consider your approach to is Delia Jenkins’ Fluency Poster “Cheat Sheet,” available in PDF format.  Watch for our post on digital fluency coming soon!

Photo Credit:

Sources:

When & How to Cite Social Media: A Student Guide

Sure, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media may be a great place for exchanging selfies and cat videos, but what about when you come across legitimate information in social media that backs up your research?


Over the course of the past couple decades, we have moved from card catalogs, to library computer searches, to articles published online, and now on to social media!  It can feel overwhelming to keep up with the most modern methods of research, especially when it comes to the various APA or MLA citation formats.  Hopefully, this post will be a useful resource for you as you decide when and how to cite social media finds!

How

The TeachByte graphic below is an excellent general guide for both MLA and APA citations.  However, as anyone who has done any research knows, certain instances can get more complicated than general guidelines.  For instance, what if you want to cite an expert who sent you a personal communication, and it’s not publicly visible for audiences to click on?  Or how do you know how to cite in-text vs. your bibliography reference list?  The official APA blog answers these questions and more in greater detail using examples from their post in October!

via TeachBytes
via TeachBytes

When

As with all research, you will want to make sure there is plenty of variety among your sources.  Just because it is now acceptable to cite social media does not mean it should consume most of your bibliography.  Additionally, because of the unique nature of social media Tweets, posts, and videos in that they can go viral even if they are inaccurate, you will want to be particularly careful when considering whether to use one.  The information literacy website, EasyBib, provides an excellent Infographic to help you in that decision-making process.

EasyBib Infographic
EasyBib

Remember…

…It’s all about giving each individual the credit they deserve for their efforts and ideas!  When in doubt, discuss your concerns with your teacher or professor!

Photo Sources:

Pete Simon (featured image)

TeachBytes

EasyBib

Source:

Chelsea, L. (2013, Oct. 13). How to Cite Social Media in APA Style. [Web blog post]. Retrieved from: http://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2013/10/how-to-cite-social-media-in-apa-style.html

Common Core Standards: Parent & Teacher Resources

With its recent implementation in 45 states, the Common Core has garnered praise and criticism alike.  This article offers a few resources to help dispel some of those worries for both parents and teachers.


 

Resources for Parents

In our experience, worries from parents about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are often due to misinformation from the media.  For example, when my own students’ parents would come to me with CCSS concerns, they were consistently shocked when I told them that the CCSS currently only covers math and English Language Arts.  This is because many articles had led them to believe that the CCSS were requiring sex education (for Kindergarten, no less!) or sweeping Social Studies alterations.  If you, too, have concerned parents at your school, here are some resources to which you can direct them to help clear things up! (Update: Be sure to also check out our newest article, “My Common Core Story, & Why You Should Share Yours, Too“).

→ “CONVERSATION: A THREE-MINUTE VIDEO ON COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS

 

CCSS logo→ MYTHS & FACT SHEET ABOUT THE CCSS

 

talking-to-teacher-467x267[1]→ ARTICLE: “TALKING TO PARENTS ABOUT THE COMMON CORE
→ FACT VS. FICTION BY STATE:

Of the states that are using the Common Core Standards, about half adopted them verbatim; most of the rest adopted them with modifications.  Click on the infographic below for a clickable map of state fact sheets.

Resources for Teachers

The concerns for teachers tend to be more related to implementation.  Experienced teachers are familiar with the constant ebb and flow of new programs and curricula, and the expectation to repeatedly scratch old material and start over.  While it can certainly be frustrating to tackle yet another new curriculum, there’s great news when it comes to the CCSS: for the first time, teachers across the country are in the same boat!  As such, we can now share resources with one another in heretofore unheard-of quantity and quality.  We believe that this is one of many ways in which the CCSS will increase the quality of national teaching practices.  Check out some of these resources below that are designed for this purpose!

LEARNZILLION:


Teacher Boaz Munro described his experiences as a new teacher in this article, sharing his realization that “All of the lessons I planned started with…a modeling of the skill I was trying to teach—and yet I was not watching enough people model the skills I was trying to learn.”  LearnZillion is a resource that allows you to watch how experienced teachers model and explain CCSS-aligned concepts.  Some features include marking your favorite videos to help you keep track, and a sharing code so that you can easily assign students to watch the videos!

KHAN ACADEMY:


Khan Academy is similar to LearnZillion in that you can set up a class account to invite students, as well as lesson videos in both English Language Arts & Math!  However, it also includes a setup that allows students to practice the skills after watching the videos within the lesson set, complete with hints that model the skills again!  This in turn allows you to monitor student progress!  This resource is filled with visual data!

BETTERLESSON:

BetterLesson is unique in that you actually choose lessons from real master teachers.  These are lessons designed more for you as the teacher than for students, and can be very informative as you work to develop lesson plans in math and language arts.

Related Reading:

10 Tips for 21st Century Teachers

Photo Credit: InThePotter’sHands (featured image)