Slice of Life: Supporting Students by Letting them Lead

Years ago, at the beginning of my teaching life, I went to a conference that featured student-led conferences. The idea seemed great. I took notes. Imagined how it could go in my classroom. And then. It got buried under a pile of everything else I had to do.

Years later, I read a post by Pernille Ripp that detailed how she did student-led conferences. Just as she guided me in my first blogging work with my students, and the global read aloud, her generosity in sharing simple steps and documents reminded me of those notes and led me towards action. And, I am grateful.

For the past five years, my students begin and end their conferences with their families. I believe this is the most positive and productive work I do to connect with students and their families. This year was no different.

It begins in the positive. It is a conference of discovery, not a gotcha. It is a time to share how students see themselves. I start them off with this form a week before the conference. It is purposefully open-ended with suggestions as to what they might include. There is ample and equal room for strengths and challenges. Just reading the forms prior conferences gives me a quick snapshot of the good and the not so good.

The form begins the conversation. It is a starting point for the real data.  Students share what was on their minds and for the most part what they said was what I was thinking. My observations and assessments mirror their words.

But the beauty of this work happens because this conversation, with a family member, allows the child to present themselves as a learner.

Concerns like, “I’m a slow reader.” Led to a home investigation of how many pages that student could read in twenty minutes at home. And while he is an excellent reader, he’s right. He reads at a slower pace than he should. I had thought his slower movement through books was a function of his social nature. But even at home, reading side by side with his mom, he was, in fact, slower than the rest. His insight and his family’s follow-through will make a difference in his reading life.

Conversations about attentiveness in lessons or during independent work time have instigated students to make the better decision about where they sit and how they get ready for the work of the classroom.

Another critical element to the success of this kind of conference is that it is scheduled well before a grading period. Because of that, the discussion is not about grades; it is a celebration of where a student is, how they have grown, and what we as a cohort of invested adults need to do next to support the child.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices here.