What are Student-Led Conferences?
"Since early adolescence is a crucial period in establishing a clear self-concept and positive self-esteem, assessment and evaluation should emphasize individual progress rather than comparison with other students. The goal is to help students discover and understand their strengths, weaknesses, interests, values, and personalities. Student self-evaluation is an important means of developing a fair and realistic self-concept."
National Middle School Association (NMSA)
This We Believe
Position Paper, 1995
It is critical to take into account the developmental needs of middle school students when designing effective assessment tools. The traditional parent-teacher conference does not typically address these developmental standards. Getting students to accept more responsibility for their learning and actions becomes more attainable when they take a pivotal role in the conferencing process. Student-led conferences shift the focus from talking about students to talking directly with them.
The Role of the Student
In a student-led conference, the student tells the story of his/her learning. Using a portfolio representing work samples from the respective time period, a student describes his/her educational growth. This is an opportunity for students to make learning active, to self-reflect and evaluate performance, and to discover who they are as learners. In a student-led conference, the student showcases not only strengths but also set goals to improve in areas of weakness.
Behind the Scenes Preparation
Successful student-led conferences are the result of careful planning, which involves all of the core teachers in a middle school team, support staff, and the students. In each academic class, goal setting and self-evaluation opportunities are ongoing. Work samples and other artifacts are stored to help document student growth. Both teachers and students alike are part of the decision-making process in what work samples to save. Time is allotted not only to this collection process but also to goal setting and self-reflection. Often rehearsal time is built in a week before an actual student-led conference giving students a chance to build confidence by planning what they will say.
Although traditional conferences give parents an opportunity to hear from a teacher's point of view how students are doing, they lack the student's voice. A student-led conference is more responsive to the developmental needs of middle school students; however, the teacher still plays a critical part. Sometimes a core teacher will facilitate an entire conference and the other teachers will be available as needed. In other formats, each core teacher deliberately drops into the conference to give an update on the student's progress. If parents feel they need additional time to speak to the teachers, this can happen right after the student-led conference if the schedule accommodates that, or parents can request a future conference time with the teachers. Regardless of the format used, the teacher's point of view is well represented in the conference through evaluation tools that are built into the preparation process.
All in all, student-led conferences are an excellent way to not only inform parents but to help students discover and understand themselves as learners.