Whose Conference Is It Anyhow?

A few weeks ago, some of my students and I made this short video to show how they feel about blogging. It’s also in my soon-to-be-released book. (End of commercial, I promise.)

What does a blog have to do with student conferences? As one of the children mentions in the video, my students use their blog as an online portfolio. That is, a digital record of what they have been learning and doing in our classroom. That portfolio is the focal point of our student-led conference.

The Portfolio Belongs to the Students

I’ve blogged before about why my students have digital portfolios. The writing, videos, images and podcasts that are part of each student’s portfolio are at first likely to be selected by myself, but as the year progresses, the students take more and more of a role in this choice. Sometimes I ask everyone to post about a certain outcome on their blog. If that is the case, the students usually have choice as to the medium they chose to use. For example, we recently posted about what we had been learning in math and, with several apps to choose from, some students chose to use Educreations while others chose Draw and Tell.  Other times, the students themselves choose what they want to post. During the spate of indoor recesses we had this winter, many of the students took pictures of their recess “creations”, whether falling dominos, Lego creations or villages with 3D blocks and posted these on their blogs. If we have all completed a paper artifact of some kind, I will remind them saying, “if you’d like to post this on your blog, go ahead”. Some do and some don’t. When we were using pastels and practicing perspective, I offered this option. About half of the students chose to post their drawing.  It is their portfolio, so I want them to have some choice about what it contains.

The Conference Belongs to the Students

Twice each year, my school division holds student-led conferences. I ask my students to choose three things that they think they have done well to share at this meeting. Before the conference, I meet briefly with each student to find out what he or she has chosen to share. I do sometimes have criteria. For example, at the conferences we just held, I asked that one of the posts they shared contain writing so that we could discuss that.

When it is time for the conference, the students, with varying amounts of support from me, talk about each of the artifacts that they have chosen, focusing on what they have done well and what they would like to get better at.

I am so proud of the growth in skills and confidence that my students displayed during their conferences. One of my students, who spent our conference last fall huddled on her mother’s knee, answering with only nods, head shakes and occasional words, confidently stood up in front of her parents and with only a little prompting from me, shared aloud what her learning had been for each of the artifacts she had chosen. I felt like I would burst with pride.

Another of my students’ mother could not be present during the conference, so her father made a video of “her presentation” to take home to share. The students know what they need to learn. Our conference is a chance for them to share their progress toward that target.

The Goals Belong to the Students

Another of the objectives of the student-led conference is for the students, with input from myself and from their parents, to set a goal for the next term. Our report cards have a section for goal setting that includes student strengths, goals and steps the student, their parents and I will each take to help meet those goals.  I am always prepared with some options for this, because although the student is not familiar with our curriculum, I do want the student to have some choice. Because I usually teach grade one, the goal we choose is often a reading goal, but if the child is doing well in this area, I will sometimes have some suggestions in other areas as well.  Once the child has chosen the goal, we discuss what the student, their parents and I will each do to help in reaching that goal. The student feels ownership because he or she has been involved in choosing it and in deciding how it will be met.

Like my students, I too am on a learning journey. I get choice in my learning goals. This blog is my space and I get to choose what I post and when. As much as I can, I want to provide those same opportunities for my students. It is their conference. They should have some of the choices that ownership implies.


6 thoughts on “Whose Conference Is It Anyhow?

  1. What a great way to expose these children to technology. I can see how by having a blog, each student has control of their own postings and take pride in what they create and share. Having the students conference and share what they have done is a great idea. I love that they are working towards a goal and parents can watch them meet that goal. I would love to see this type of technology in my classroom, we just lack resources and money.

    1. I am very aware of how fortunate I am to have the access that I do in my classroom. Having said that, we have made it work no matter how much access we had–even when we had only one period per week in our computer lab.

  2. I love this idea of student led conferences. Even without having iPads available in the classroom, I can see the benefits of student led conference. Students CHOOSE the examples for their portfolio. And students identify their strengths and weaknesses. I also really like the idea of the student, parent, and teacher coming up with ways to help the student with their goals. A students learning SHOULD be a team effort. Any comments about the challenges you faced, or suggestions you have regarding implementing this process?

    1. Karen, the process has been quite seamless. My students had these conferences in kindergarten and expect to be included. Some of the parents are, I think, surprised because the conferences are different than those that took place when they were in school, but they are all thrilled to see their child being the center of attention, talking about their goals. The parents readily buy into supporting their child when they and their child are involved in helping to set the goals.
      I often offer parents the chance to have a private word with me if they so choose, but that rarely happens.

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