The Value of Student-Led Parent Conferences
I am indebted to my colleague, reader, and fellow blogger, Steven Zemelman, for this guest post. As a follow-up to my recent posts on the limits of grading, Steven looks at one very promising alternative to grades for student evaluation
By Steven Zemelman
Ina recent blog post, Russ wrote about the severe limitations of grades in communicating to parents about their child’s learning. It seems that while many teachers consider traditional letter grades to be problematic, they believe parents demand grades as a measure of how their child is doing.
This discussion reminded me of the many teachers and schools around the country using student-led parent conferences to give parents a more in-depth look at how children are doing. To define it briefly, in student-led conferences students show, explain, and sometimes even demonstrate for their parents or guardians the work they’ve been doing in school. This can take place on a parent night or successively scheduled teacher-parent-child meetings. Yes, there’s time and work involved. Effective conferences must be preceded by considerable preparation on the students’ part, but it is preparation that immerses them in review, reflection, and the writing out of explanations. So it’s not an “extra” task but rather a deep learning experience that can substitute for review time that both children and teachers often find tedious. Further, it helps parents understand how the teacher approaches instruction, as well as their child’s strengths and challenges, and how they can help at home. And especially important, it empowers young people to use their voices authentically and authoritatively, something that is all too rare for them.
There are a variety of ways that teachers have structured the conferences. Some set them up as individual meetings with the teacher, parents, and child all involved together. Others prepare “stations” through which the children and their parents rotate to cover each subject. Still others have students each set up a display of materials at a spot in the room so that multiple conferences take place at once, with the teacher circulating to answer questions as needed. Teachers who use student-led conferences have developed a variety of tools to support the process:
- protocols and guide sheets to help students choose and organize their artifacts and draft their goals, explanations, and self-evaluations
- room arrangements to facilitate the conference process
- lessons to help students prepare their conference presentation.
Some issues do arise with student-led conferences. Not all parents are able to Russ on Reading: The Value of Student-Led Parent Conferences: