Student Led Conferences

student led conferenceOur sixth grade team has been holding student led conferences in the spring for a number of years.  We spend several weeks preparing.  First, students go over their grade reports, write down their current grade in each class and any missing assignments.  With the computer grading system, they are also able to look at their overall percentages in categories like homework, tests, participation, etc.  This information helps them look honestly at their work habits.

Next, students fill out a self evaluation page.  Statements like “I come to class prepared”, “I turn in my work on time” or “I put time and effort into my work” help students prepare to explain their grades and work habits to their parents.  I have found that students often grade themselves more harshly than I would on many of these categories.

At this point, we talk to them about setting goals.  We ask them to set a goal for the third trimester, along with a plan to reach it, and a goal for 7th grade.  We also have them write down their favorite things about 6th grade, to keep everything on a positive note.  It’s always interesting to see the goals they set.  They take the process very seriously and tailor their goals to their current achievement and hopes for the future.

Once we have the preparations in place, we take them to the computer lab to create a powerpoint.  Since we have a smartboard in the classroom, we’ve found that having them create a powerpoint to use during their conference gives them a boost of confidence, and shows their parents some of the technology they use each day.  We don’t give them much direction at this point, other than to remind them that the slides will serve to help them talk to their parents about how they have been doing in school.

Some students keep their slideshow pretty basic – just the facts.  Others include pictures, transitions, animations and sounds.  We leave all of that up to their individual preference.

Finally, students are given time to practice their presentations.  They work with a partner and go over their slides, practicing what to say.  One thing we have them practice is introducing us to their parents.  This is an important social skill, so we make sure they know how to do it properly, with names included.  In addition, we suggest they ask parents to “hold all questions until the end”.  Giving them that small amount of power really makes them feel good about the process.  Of course, we practice making that request politely.

Over the years, with the advent of smartboards, and the addition of the powerpoint, I’ve noticed a real change in the parents’ reactions.  In the past, with paper notes, parents tended to ask a lot of questions and often got angry with their child as he or she revealed the grades.  However, using the powerpoint, the parents seem so awestruck by what their child is capable, they generally don’t have as many questions.  Whether it’s because the slides answer all the questions, or parents just aren’t used to seeing a smartboard in use, I’m not sure.

One thing I am sure of, having the students prepare and run their own conference is a very worthwhile activity.  I have found it’s very good for them to see what goes into the grades they earn.  It also gives them that necessary practice presenting, and gives them a measure of confidence for the future.  (It’s also a much easier conference night for me, since I don’t have to spend the entire three hours talking non-stop!)

Do you hold student led conferences?  Are they well attended?


Genius Day Part 1

geniusEverywhere I look, I see references to Genius Hour.  Our teachers have been reading Drive by Daniel Pink.  These two factors came together and caused our sixth grade team to decide to try it ourselves.

Our plan is to hold our first Genius Day the Friday after Spring Break.  We explained the plan to our students last Friday afternoon.  Our hope is that this gives our students a chance to think about and plan their ideas.  They were very excited by the prospect.  We couldn’t possibly answer all of their questions.

As we explained the premise, we also explained the expectations.  We have several papers for the kids to fill out, which we found online, and tweaked to fit our needs.  We’ll be asking the students to evaluate their abilities beforehand, then they’ll fill out a table with their ideas and plans.  Finally, after we’re finished, we’ll ask them to evaluate their day.

Our presentation plan is to have them set up their final products, invite the 5th graders, community members, administrators and school board to see what they accomplished.  As students left Friday afternoon, they were already starting to think ahead to their final product.

We’re pretty excited about this.  If it goes well, we’ll plan to do it again, this year or next.  If not, we’ll tweak things and hopefully try it again.

Family Language Arts Night

bookOur school has held Family Curriculum Nights for years.  We started with Family Science Night, then added Family Math Night and now we also hold Family Language Arts Night.  In the past, we followed the standard Family Science Night format – openers for a half hour, 3 half hour sessions led by a teacher, then wrap up and cookies at the end.

This year, we changed that up a bit.  We held our Annual Family Language Arts Night with an open house format.  This meant that families could arrive at whatever time worked for their schedule, move through the activities at their own pace, then head home when they were finished.  With busy families, this was a highly successful model.

We used a Dr Seuss theme this year.  The students picked up a punch card at the front lobby, along with some trivia questions they could work on throughout the evening.

The activities included a photo booth (complete with Cat in the Hat props and a frame), bookmark making, online madlib kind of website, book recommendations and a page for a book to place in the school library.  Families could spend as much or as little time at each station they liked.

The photo booth was a hit – a digital camera allowed us to take pictures (we had them printed out over the weekend).  We took an old frame from a bulletin board and painted it red.

The students definitely liked the book page.  Each student was able to use a prompt to create a page.  The pages will be bound together to make a book to place in the library.  Students love to see their work and the work of former students, so this will be a hot item!

Our computer lab had a water main break over Christmas, so it just got re-opened with brand new computers, carpet, tables, etc.  This generated a lot of excitement for the families to get in and use the brand new stuff.  The online website we found: kept them well engaged.

For the book recommendations, we printed speech bubbles.  The students were able to pick a book from the library, write a blurb about why this book was worth reading.  Now, the librarian can add these to various books in the library to generate interest in them.

In addition to all of this foolishness, our after school program baked Cat in the Hat cookies and decorated them.  These were handed out as families were leaving, along with a note: “Thanks for stopping by, please enjoy this sugar high”.

All in all, it was a very successful evening and families were enthusiastic about attending.

Next year, we plan to follow a Paddle to the Sea theme. (The author lived in our town!)

book pages and mustache template

Giving Students Leadership Opportunities Part 2

I absolutely love to put kids in charge of a project and let them go.  I’m basically a lazy person, so any time I can watch someone else work, it’s a good day!

Recently, my gifted and talented kids needed a project to keep them busy (our computer lab was out of commission due to a water main break).  I had run out of ideas, so I asked them what they would like to do.  They immediately suggested something with teaching kids about healthy living.  It occurred to me that our school was going to participate in ACES May 1 (All Children Exercising Simultaneously), so I told them about that.  The current plan was to have the entire building go up to the high school track and walk for 30 minutes.ACES

Naturally, my students couldn’t let that be all we would do.  They jumped on the idea and started coming up with activities.

As the process evolved, they split into groups and each group generated some ideas for what they would like to do.  The only requirements were that all of our students (5th graders through 8th graders) had to be able to participate and it needed to be something that would engage them.  The kids were very adamant about not having students sit and listen.

One group thought a Family Feud style game show would be a fun way to teach/review healthy habits.  Another wanted to hold a school wide capture the flag game, and a third wanted to create stations for students to work through that would get them up and moving.  They even want to create a special invitation to hand out to all the students to get them fired up about the day.

It’s been so gratifying to watch the students take on the leadership role.  I’ve found that with just a little guidance (a suggestion here, a nudge there) they can come up with amazing ideas.  The only issue they have is the follow-through.  That’s where I come in.  I keep them steered towards completion.  I love that my students think it’s a privilege to do my job.

As we get closer, I’ll post how everything went.  Here’s hoping it goes well!

What tasks/projects can you turn over to your students?