Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Guide to Implementing Student-led Conferences

Here is a brief article on the benefits of using student-led conferences in your classroom. I am a huge advocate for promoting student-reflection in the classroom. It is beneficial for the parents, students and the teacher teacher. It promotes student engagement and increases student accountability. Read all about it here. If you are interested in using student-led conferences in your class click here. 

What are student-led conferences?
Student-led conferences are preplanned meetings that are run by students and are ideally held periodically throughout a term. During this meeting students use their portfolio of student work to discuss their academic progress and areas of need with their teacher. The purpose of student-led conferences is to establish highly interactive communications systems that foster dialogue about their learning. Students are empowered through the implementation of student-led conferences. They are made to feel like partners in their learning and they are held accountable for their learning goals. Student-led conferences also serve as an opportunity to get parents actively involved in their child’s learning. At the end of the term, students can use the data collected throughout the semester to discuss their overall progress with their parents. During student-led parent conferences (a non traditional report card conference that is led by the student), parents get to hear from their child about what they are learning, what their strengths are and what areas they feel they need additional support. Students have the opportunity to collaborate with their parents during a short goal-setting session at the end of the conference. This is a powerful way to get parents/caregivers interested and engaged. It serves as a conversational tool that can be used to spark meaningful discussions about a child’s progress outside of the school setting. Teachers can use this time to promote “dinner talk” and/or “car talk” with their families. Parents will appreciate this information and the teacher will begin to see an increase in meaningful conversation during discussions with parents and students.

Students led the conference
Before the conference, students:
  •  Collect work samples with the teacher and learning partners.
  •  Review their work with the teacher and learning partners.
  •  Create learning goals.
  • Explain the benefits of the conference as a learning process to their parents.

During the conference, students:
  •            Share and discuss learning goals with their teacher, learning partner and/or parent.
  •            Identify strengths and learning goals with their teacher, learning partner and/or parent.
  •            Determine next steps to improve learning.
  •            Agree on the date of the next conference to address progress and/or concerns.

After the conference, students:
  •  Discuss the benefits of the conference.
  • Work on their next steps to improve learning.

Teachers help students prepare for the conference

Before the conference, teachers:
  • Prepare measurable tasks and activities that students are able to analyze and use as a reflection tool.
  • Provide students with rubrics, self-checklist and self-assessments that assist students with pinpointing their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Guide students in the collection of work samples and review the learning goals.
  • Review learning goals.
  • Explain the conference as a learning process to parents.
  • Organize the conference area for successful communication.
  • Set up a conferring schedule.

 During the conference, teachers:
  • Act as a guide and offer positive feedback.
  • Identify new learning goals with students and parents.
  • Inquire about students’ long-term career goals.
  • Assist students and parents in determining the next steps for learning.
  • Agree on the date of the next conference to address progress or concerns

After the conference, teachers:
  • Provide feedback to students and parents about the conference process.
  • Review new goals and next steps for learning with students and parents.

Benefits of student-led conferences
  • Students take ownership of their learning.
  • Parents and students have open communication about school, after-school activities and other important decisions in life.
  • Teachers establish a stronger working relationship with parents and students.

Getting Started:

Planning is key. Preparing students for active and meaningful reflection takes a good amount of teacher preparation. Begin by first identifying the content, skills and standards that are going to be addressed in the marking period/quarter. Map this out. Be sure to highlight the assessment tools, materials, homework, projects etc. This information is necessary when establishing what will and won’t be collected in your students’ portfolios. A portfolio of work is a critical component of the student led-conferences. This is because students need something tangible to compare and analyze when thinking about their progress. There are two types of classroom assessments that can be added to student portfolios: formative assessments and summative assessments.

Formative assessments are informal assessments that are given as “checkpoints” in a unit or lesson. These are considered part of the instructional process. They are usually used to determine the general understanding of a concept or skill that has been taught. Based on a formative assessment, a teacher can determine if a skill needs to be retaught. Formative assessments can be given in the form of exit slips, homework, quizzes, short lesson assessment, quick write, and open-ended questions (to name a few). They are usually given at the end of a lesson or, used as a review at the start of a lesson; they can be considered a form of practice and do not carry the same weight in the grade book. Formative assessments help teachers to get a “status of class”; they highlight who got the “big idea” in the lesson and/or who needs support.

Summative Assessments are more formalized and are usually given at the end of a unit or at the completion of teaching a concept or skill. It takes the form of a unit/chapter test, mid-term/final exam, state assessments, district-wide benchmark assessment, cumulative projects/ term papers, and/or other accountability assessments. The purpose of a summative assessment is to measure a students’ knowledge or ability at the completion of a unit of instruction or term. This type of assessment comes after the ongoing formative assessments. The idea is that after teaching a unit where formative assignments guided the need to reteach and revisit highlighted skills and concepts, the summative assessment summarizes their overall success at the conclusion of this instruction.

When students are involved in student-led conferences, the idea is that they participate in analyzing their progress using ongoing informal and/or formal assessments. By having the opportunity to review their work critically, they are able to identify their personal strengths and areas of weakness, set goals for improving in these areas and are held accountable for making progress. The summative assessment measures their overall progress a student makes in regard to their highlighted goals.

What does student reflection look like?

Students must be actively involved in the assessment process.  Not only should they be able to take a critical look at their own work, they should also be able to hold conversations with their peers; they should also serve as a resource and learning partner.
Teachers begin this reflection process by first establishing clear and measurable goals. These goals should be aligned with the common core. Teachers must know in advance what they want their students to be able to do by the end of the term. In addition, they must provide assessments that measure these goals and support evidence of progress or lack of progress. By establishing increments of learning with self-assessments and stopping points for reflection and evaluation, the teacher can also give the opportunity to monitor students’ reflection while also providing meaningful feedback and support. This process should not only make the student aware of their progress. It will also help identify where the learning breaks down when a student is struggling with a particular skill.
Aside from good planning, good instruction is key to quality student-led conferences. This includes using instructional strategies that provide teachers and students with data through the use of formative assessments that are a part of daily classroom instruction. In addition, using this data to inform instruction, engage students, and actively using this data to differentiate and supplement instruction when necessary.  
Formative Assessments and Student Portfolios
The following assessment strategies can be used to assist with adding activities and assessments to student portfolios. When using these strategies, student work can be checked and returned to students in a timely manner to promote active student reflection. 
  • Exit Slips

Start each lesson with a clear mastery objective (i.e. The students will be able to identify the main idea and three supporting details using the 2 W’s strategy). Developing mastery objectives encourages the teacher to first identify the skill that will taught/ reinforced and the strategy that will be used to teach it. A clear mastery objective highlights a task that the student should be able to do at the end of the lesson. A clear task will assess whether or not the student “got it”. The exit slip is basically a mini quiz given at the end of the lesson. It is based on the mastery objective (i.e. Read the short passage. Identify the main idea and three supporting details using the 2 W’s strategy). Exit slips take the guesswork out of assessing your students. By reviewing the exit slips, the teacher gets a classroom snapshot and will be able to determine a) who needs additional support or, b) who is ready to move on. This type of formative assessment also provides teachers with the information necessary for differentiating instruction.

  • Rubrics and Checklist

Rubrics and checklist can be used with writing assignments, inquiry projects, center/workshop activities, cooperative group activities, open-ended responses in math and reading and more. In fact, any activity that is based on standards and objectives are compatible with rubrics and checklists. Rubrics and checklists can be used as a teaching tool as well as a tool for evaluating student learning. These tools should be student-centered and easy to understand. The criteria should be clear and specific. Students should be able to self-check their work using these tools with no guesswork. They should be able to independently evaluate their work.

Ideas for creating rubrics and checklist

Rubrics: Teachers can establish the objectives and expectations for the given activity. These objectives and expectations should then be assigned points. How well they meet the standard determines how many points they get. After students self-assess their work, the activity should then be assessed by the teacher. How a student measures their work provides information to the teacher; it gives a peek into the mind of the student and how they interpret the quality of the measured objective. It also provides teachers with the opportunity to provide explicit feedback. Based on the rubric, students know exactly what they need support with and what they do well.

Checklists: Teachers can highlight specific tasks to be completed in an activity. When self-assessing their work, students can check whether the task was completed and note that on their checklist.

Summing it all up

When planning for student-led portfolios, teachers should think about the following components:

  • Outlining in advance learning goals for the term. Identifying the formative and summative assessments that will be used to measure these goals. Developing a timeline that highlights reflection dates, activities and conference dates. Establish the goals for discussion during a student-led conference.
  •  Identifying/ developing rubrics, checklists, and or self-assessments that guide student reflection.
  • Collecting student work samples that are based on the information highlighted.
  • Walking students through their first few reflection sessions.
  • At the conclusion of the term, having students choose student work that highlights their growth (stronger samples and samples that highlight when a particular skill was in the development stage). Comparing and contrasting their work samples.

Putting it all together:

  • Organize student portfolios so that they are easy to manage and navigate.
  • Complete portfolio review sheet.
  • Refer to student goals and their data when planning engaging activities. Students should be given opportunities to review their data on a regular basis. This is necessary to keep this process reflective and meaningful.
  • Provide opportunities to share their data with their peers and parents.

After taking students through the student-led conference process, it is suggested that you make the transition to student-led parent conference. In this resource kit you will find the following resources:

·         Graphing data sheet: Students can use this sheet to graph and chart assessment data. The type of assessment being graphed should be consistent on each form. For example, teachers may choose to use one form for benchmark/ district-wide assessments, lesson assessments or unit tests. If the teacher chooses to chart more than one type of assessment, then a different form should be used. This is to promote consistency when measuring progress.
·       Goal setting sheet: the goal sheet can be used during the actual student led conference. When hosting the conference, begin by reviewing the student data. Students should have already had the opportunity to review their assessment when they graphed the data. During the meeting the student should be able to view the assessment and their errors and make sound judgments about their strengths and areas of growth. The teacher should guide this discussion with questions that leads the student to think critically about their work. After this discuss the student should set goals and think about what is necessary for them to do in order to achieve this goal.
·        Reflective goal setting sheet: This sheet is used after the initial conference. This sheet should be used to guide the discussion around the progress made between the current assessment and the last assessment. Based on their progress, students can set new goals or revisit their previous goals.
·        Goal setting tracking sheet: This sheet allows students to think about their goals, choose activities during independent practice time (center/workshop time) that focus on practicing the specific skill highlighted in this goal, and document the day they practiced this skill.

o   Parent brochure to send home to parents (editable in Pages and non-editable PDF version)
o   Parent invitation letter and reminder (editable document)
o   Template for a student letter to parents
o   Parent survey
o   Student survey
o   Teacher survey
o   Student script and checklist for leading their conference
o   Student goal sheet for student and parent
o   Parent follow-up assignment and survey (editable)

*These forms can be used as a guide when planning for student-led conferences, or you can use the PDF forms as is.


  1. Thanks so much for posting this. I enjoy posts like this one that help me to think about teaching in new ways.

    The Learning Metamorphosis

    1. That is great! Thanks for stopping by. I plan on posting informative articles monthly!! I am working on how to use positive affirmations in the classroom for next month. If you sign up for the newsletter, you can get a sneak peek and a few extra goodies each month :)

  2. I need to book mark this post for further reference. We do our conferences in October. You have some ideas here I definitely want to try.

    1. Cool! The great thing about student-led conferences is that they can be used as an ongoing formative assessment throughout the year. Student-led parent conferences is an added bonus! I have forms that you can use to implement them in your class on a regular basis. I am glad you enjoyed the article!

  3. Hi Ms. Wainwright,
    I just wanted to let you know that I shared your post on my Thumbs up Thumbs down Thursday - as a thumbs up of course :) - because I really thought it was a great post!

    The Picture Book Teacher's Edition

  4. Thanks so much Shawna! I am happy you enjoyed it!

  5. You have some really good ideas in this article "A Guide to Implementing Student-led Conference ". I am glad I read this. I agree with much of what you state in this article. Your information is thought-provoking, interesting and well-written. Thank you.

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