Student-Led Conferences at Birch
This Edutopia blog post, by Meg Riordan and published earlier this month looks at Student Led Conferences. Ms. Riordan works as Project Director with Expeditionary Learning. She discusses how the Student Led Conference helps students take charge of their own learning.
Birch School Teaching staff is very enthusiastic about Student-Led Conferences. For the first time in Winter 2015 we used this process, and it seemed that students, teachers, and families are pleased with the experience. Although it wasn’t always easy to get students motivated to be realistically self-reflective, and to prepare their presentations, the effort was worthwhile.
Students invited parents to a 20 minute conference, and met with parents and teachers in a private room. They each prepared a binder holding their work, and they brought this to the conference.
When the conferences finally occurred the conversations with each student were constructive and non-punitive. In most cases one or two parents were present for the conference, as well as one or two teachers or mentors.
Students prepared for the conference using tools that we adapted for the purpose. (We took models from Expeditionary Learning). Students had a script to follow, a model that they could use or adapt as they wanted. Before the conference was held, students spent time filling in the parts of the script so that at the conference they were able to describe and show some of their best and most challenging work. Here is a link to the Parent/Student Handbook from the Tapestry School, adapted from Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning.
The script is a great tool for students, a foundation they can rely on when they feel unsure. For some students the script was something they could hide behind, as they went through the mechanics of going through their work, using the mask to hide their embarrassment and uncertainty. Quickly parents and teachers were able to make these students feel more competent and comfortable, as each showed quality work, and honest reflection on ways to improve.
Students also used a 1- 4 scale to rate themselves in each subject area, as well as in their “Habits of Work and Learning”. This enables them to discuss some strengths and challenges in each subject area, as well as make a plan to address the challenge areas.
We were universally surprised at the level of honesty and self-reflection that students exhibited. The self-affirmation of reading aloud skills such as “I read with expression and understanding” cannot be overlooked. Their problem-solving abilities were displayed as each student, on their own, made suggestions on how to improve their performance.
We look forward to repeating the Student Led conferences at the end of the year, and seeing how (and if) the process motivates students to interact with their work differently. We wonder if being in the spotlight, as the one responsible for the work motivates students to want to work harder, or be more focused or outcome oriented. We will be watching carefully when we repeat this at the end of the school year.