Facilitating Student-led Conferences

One of my favorite days of the school year because I get the chance to hear my students share their learning!

Styles of Student-led Conferences

To start, one style is not better than the other, in my own opinion. I have found both to be successful in terms of student reflections and ability to showcase their work as well as parent investment.

  • Station Style: In this structure, I had students rotate through 5 different stations. It allows multiply conferences to happen at a time.  While I was teaching middle school humanities (ELA and history), having students go through a number of stations was not challenging. I included stations that allowed students to showcase assignments such as favorite writing pieces and their interactive notebook. Another station required students to complete a sorting/categorizing activity with their parents (i.e. sorting the powers of the branches of government, the differences between the Federalists and Democratic Republicans, or sorting different types of figurative language). Lastly, one station required students to have conversations with their parents about the A-G requirements for college as we were working hard to create a college-going culture with our students. Because students are the facilitators of this conference, we asked parents to complete a handout that allowed them to share something they learned or saw from each station. When I used this style, the population of our community spoke both English and Spanish, so as you’ll see in the forms below we used these languages to communicate with families.

    In this “Station Style,” students share their work for fifteen minutes or so and then I would join the conversation for about five minutes if families had additional questions or concerns that they would like to share. In a couple of circumstances, I’ve shared grades/report cards, but I think that distracted from the student as the facilitator and lessened the empowerment. Though the time frame was more convenient since multiple conferences were going on at a time, my presence for those five minutes really distracted from the student being the center of attention (which is the whole purpose of these conferences). 

  • Individual Conferences: In this structure, students lead the conference, sharing important pieces of work and discussing areas of growth, along with the expectation of goal-setting. They are either in the room with one or two other families or by themselves (both with the teacher present in the classroom as well). As a 5th grade teacher, I have utilized this individual conference structure and found it successful. I’ve used it in two different ways: one that allowed two families to sign up for each time slot and one that only allowed one family to sign up for a conference slot at a time.

    In this structure there is one family at a time. The teacher is present at every single conference for the entire duration of each conference. With 31 students, this was manageable with a half-day of school and a full day off, with a few others here and there. If I was teaching middle school and had multiple classes of students, I don’t know that this would have been the most effective way to conference. However, the benefit of giving ONE student your full attention, is quite amazing. They will really surprise you with all the things they’ve actually learned!

Ways to Prepare for Student-led Conferences

First and foremost, student buy-in is essential. They need to see the value in this style of conferencing and watching videos of others or seeing a simulation can be extremely beneficial. Planning for Student-Led Conferences requires that the teacher not only share the process but also provide time for reflection and multiple opportunities to practice. Students need to be prepared to present their work, and even though it may seem like they are “just presenting to their family,” I have often seen students become very nervous to speak about their work with family members.

Speaking of family, it is essential that the teacher has a plan for students who do not have a family member that can attend. Perhaps a role model on campus that they have a good relationship with? Perhaps they can invite someone else that they are close with? Just be mindful of different scenarios and backgrounds that students come to school with, and make sure to be mindful and inclusive of them. At the schools I worked in, every student shared their work with a supportive family member, though involvement in the conference may have looked different for each of them.

Now that you’ve prepared your students and made sure that everyone has a guest to share their learning with, all is smooth sailing, right? Beware that implementing Student-led Conferences also requires some family education (or re-education). Since this is a fairly newer practice, it is vital that your students not only communicate the structure to their guests ahead of time, but also that you as the teacher make it very clear to guests that this is the student’s time to share! 

Sample Forms and Documents

However you choose to implement Student-Led Conferences in your classroom, you’ll want to guide your students through the process (especially if they are not accustomed to this style of conferences). Here are some different forms that I’ve used or found helpful in guiding my work with Student-Led Conferences. Please note that for each link to a Google Doc, you will need to make you own copy in order to edit the document (File–>Make a Copy).

How do you implement or plan to implement Student Led Conferences?

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