Our 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?