I promised Paul Aniceto that I would blog about the Student-Led Conferences that my students held with their parents this school year and elaborate more on the process itself.
This is just one of the many opportunities parents get to know what their children do in school – we have a class blog they follow, I send weekly overviews of our activities in a PDF format via e-mail, we meet in October for a Target Setting conference and more. I will focus solely on this type of conference because I don’t think many schools outside the IB community use it and, well, you might find it interesting.
The students are the ones who lead the conference. The teacher is simply a host who documents the process (yes, I had a photo cam and a flipcam in each hand – multitasking, anyone?)
The portfolio is a selection of student work chosen by the students themselves. Each piece is accompanied by a written reflection by each student.
The process is quite simple but very intense.
1. The students were invited to challenge their parents by setting tasks related to their learning – in language, in math and in the inquiry unit that had just ended. In groups, they came up with these tasks in creative ways – they designed puzzles, crossword games, spelling challenges, math quizzes, map routes with bad luck and fortune cards to test their parents’ map reading skills and whatnot! What did they practice? Well…
– Subject-related skills (making a crossword puzzle about, say homophones, involves using domain-knowledge)
– Collaboration skills (the kids had to cooperate to reach a consensus, to negotiate and compromise)
But I thought of a twist…Who says smiles are forbidden? Let’s reward or punish the parents if they get it wrong. Now THIS made me giggle a lot: the kids came up with the funniest things – see the video. I was a bit nervous about it – it is not quite a “professional” approach and I wouldn’t do it with older students. However, I knew the parents quite well as many had offered to contribute to our learning before – either as experts in various fields related to our inquiry units, or as Mystery Readers (an activity that all kids enjoy).
*All the challenges were displayed on the conference desks and on the walls. See two samples here (click to enlarge).
2. Practice presentations with 7th grade buddies. We invited our buddies to help us become more comfortable with presenting – after all, we are 2nd graders and this is a big task for so little kids. Mind you, we are also second-language learners.
3. Conferring with parents. Today is the day. Nervous? Excited? Proud? Get rolling – you are in charge, kid. Need I say how confident the little ones were and how smoothly everything went? I guess not if you see the video. The parents were absolutely great – they engaged in the games completely, helped their children when they got “stuck” (see some of questions I had prepared for them on each conference desk), and obviously had great fun themselves. They completed a quick feedback form and also reflected on this conference more at home (see the documents).
*As we were diving into the next inquiry unit (Le Belle Arti) we also invited parents to contribute to our hallway art exhibit – they added post-its with their reactions to the respective artworks. Aside from the parental involvement in our learning itself, their various reactions helped us build on the concept of Perspective later on.
– 4 conference desks in four corners (where the kids and the parents would sit and talk)
– 4 challenge stations: Language, Math, Inquiry Unit (the previous unit of inquiry was focused on mapping), and Digital Literacy (desk with laptop – so students could showcase their digital skills, the class blog contributions etc.)
I have never been pro-“cute” classrooms (see an Angela Watson’s article – The Culture of Cute in the Classroom) so what I had displayed were student thinking (our regular concept maps, diagrams, reflections etc.) and several photographs I took throughout the school year (the kids Skyping with other classes or experts, our meeting with Peter H. Reynolds, kids exploring math around school etc.). I do understand the impact of beautiful things in a classroom and I would love classrooms like these but from that to “cutefying” is a long distance.
– The students conferred at previously scheduled times (4 of them simultaneously, at different desks)
– We set up a whole school day for these conferences (with a lunch break for the teachers)
– Parents spend about 60 minutes in class (30 minutes -portfolio discussions, 30 minutes – challenges), and then they are invited to other areas (Music room, Gym room, Library etc.) around the school where children can show skills they developed in other subjects (i.e. playing an instrument, reading with the parent etc.) for another 30 minutes.
– The parents are instructed about the nature of this conference prior to their coming so that they would not engage in overt criticism of their child, in administrative discussions, or in conversations with the teacher (we have many ways and channels to communicate). It is a 90-minute period when they get to know their child in the school setting, where they get to understand from a different perspective – through discussions and showcase of skills – what their child is learning.
*Documents you can download:
Parent feedback 2M – A quick, 5-minute feedback I received before the parent went with the child to other schools areas.
Parent feedback – school – A long, detailed feedback that the parent(s) completed at home.
SLCs – Parent questions – I cut the paper in two and glued the question list onto a blue cardboard – I displayed one on each conference desk.
I would like to thank Jennifer Fenton for inspiration. Do check her blog post on reflective practice – her students had a more complex approach in relation to the PYP elements but I tried to adapt it to my students’ age group and linguistic abilities. OK, and to our collective need for giggles.