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Having student led conferences or student lead parent teacher conferences can be a great way of educating your student or child.

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Student led conferences in school

When parent-teacher conferences are led by students, pupils tend to take a more active role and maintain ownership of their progress and learning as a whole.

Allow the student to take the lead

Unlike traditional parent conferences, student-led meetings allow pupils to deliver crucial information to their parents, guardians and caregivers. Throughout the course of each conference, students have the opportunity to present a sample of their work to their parents or caregivers and can update them on their progress in particular subjects and disciplines.

In addition to this, students are encouraged to share their goals and objectives, as well as how they plan on attaining them, with their guardians. Following classroom-based activities, students are able to share what type of learner they are and explain which teaching methods enable them to understand and retain information most easily.

Some of the benefits associated with student-led conferences include:
  • Increases students’ self-confidence
  • Encourages pupils to take an active role in their education
  • Allows students to disclose any worries or struggles they are facing
  • Motivates parents to attend meetings and conferences
  • Gives teachers an insight into how their students think
  • Creates the opportunity for an on-going dialogue

Allow the student to learn and grow

Although student-led conferences can focus solely on presentations given by students, they don’t need to run by students in order for them to be effective. In fact, many schools which choose to incorporate student-led conferences start with a small amount of student involvement at parent-teacher conferences.

In some instances, this simply means allowing children to be present at the conference and inviting or encouraging them to attend. This ensures there is a open dialogue between teachers, students and their caregivers, and provides a forum for all parties to discuss the student’s efforts and achievements, as well as their future aims.

Alternatively, student-led conferences can be introduced by allowing pupils to present some information during the course of a standard parent-teacher meeting. They may be asked what type of interventions could help them to study more effectively, for example, or encouraged to share any particular obstacles they feel they are facing in the classroom environment.

Whilst student-led meetings have been associated with a number of benefits, some teachers may be reluctant to adopt this type of approach at first. Some teachers may feel that crucial information could be lost in a student-led environment or that meetings will be lose focus and direction if they are not teacher-led.

Following pilot schemes, however, many teachers have described student-led conferences as being surprisingly successful. Rather than attempting to defend the grades they’ve given each student or the critique they may have applied to assignments, a considerable number of teachers felt that student-led conferences fostered a more collaborative approach.

Furthermore, conferences which are led by students, as opposed to teachers, often focus more on learning styles and upcoming objectives. Whilst teacher-led conferences can sometimes be limited to a discussion of prior grades, effort and behavior, student-led meetings allowed pupils to discuss future learning strategies with their caregivers and teachers and suggest ways in which their school and home environment can be adapted to assist them further.

Set a time for the student led conference

Due to the sheer number of parents to see, teachers are often pressed for time when it comes to parent-teacher meetings. Most school have at least one or two dedicated parent-teacher sessions each year and at least one parent or caregiver is encouraged to attend on behalf of each pupil. With limited time available, most meetings are 10 or 15 minutes. Although this doesn’t seem like a particularly long period of time in which to gain crucial information about your child’s education, this time limit appears to have beneficial effects when applied to student-led conferences.

When students are first asked to take part or lead parent-teacher meetings they can feel understandably nervous. By limiting the time each meeting takes, students may feel more able to cope with the demands and take a more active role in the meeting. In addition to this, a specified deadline ensures that children focus on issues they feel are most important and encourages them to share learning concerns, issues or worries with their teacher and their parent.

Another advantage of using student-led conferences to liaise with parents is the opportunity for further discussion. Whilst teachers can only offer a limited amount of time to each parent or caregiver, students and their families can continue the discussion outside of school. If a meeting runs over the allotted time, for example, teachers may allow students to take their presentation folder home in order to discuss their learning experience in more detail with their parents.

Have students prepare

Prior to each conference, students are asked to create a portfolio or folder of their work. Although the type of portfolio required will vary according to age and ability, this encourages pupils to take an active role in the planning of the meeting and ensures they are able to include specific pieces of work they are proud of.

Younger children may create a picture or poster which is designed to incorporate their recent learning targets, for example, whilst pupils in higher grades may collate samples of recent assignments or exams.

Students may include a range of documents in their portfolio, such as:
  • A piece of work they are proud of
  • An assignment they struggled with
  • Creative work, such as model-building, software programming etc.
  • Artwork from throughout the year
  • Samples of teacher feedback they’ve received
  • An audio, visual or text-based presentation which can be viewed by parents, caregivers and teachers

These student portfolios are an on-going reflection of the student’s efforts and achievements, and can be referred to at any time throughout the academic year. When the time for student-led conferences comes around, students have easy access to a wide range of work and this can simply be moved from their portfolio to their conference binder.

Although students are able to choose what goes into their conference binder, they are encouraged to include a range of work. When creating a conference binder, teachers may ask students what they think their caregivers would like to see when they attend the meeting or which areas highlight their progress best. Similarly, teachers may encourage students to include pieces of work which identify problem areas the student has encountered so that their parents are aware of any difficulties the student is having and are able to provide assistance at home.

As well as creating a useful and informative conference binder, this process encourages students to take ownership of their learning and their education at all times. By maintaining their student portfolio throughout the year, pupils are reminded that each piece of work is important and that every effort they make is recognized by both the faculty and their caregivers.

Preparing student leaders

Schools which have already adopted a student-led approach to conferences have also provided pupils with training and direction prior to the meetings taking place. Teachers understand how successful conferences should be managed and they are able to explain this to students so that they feel confident when taking a more active role in parent-teacher discussions.

Practicing the conference enables students to address any issues they are having and gives them the opportunity to gain feedback from their teachers and their peers. Whether students are practicing with their peer group, their teacher or with students from different grade levels, they are honing their skills all the time and developing their ability to conduct a successful conference.

Whilst conference preparation may take up some class time, this does not appear to have a negative effect on teachers, students or the learning experience as a whole. In fact, time spent on conference preparation often encourages students to reflect on their achievements and areas in which they haven’t performed at their best. As a result, students can benefit from the time spent preparing for parent-teacher conferences when they are undertaking standard work in the classroom.

Furthermore, allowing students to prepare for conferences in the classroom does not need to take up an inordinate amount of time or interfere with the existing curriculum. Spending just five or ten minutes a day in the run up to the conference is sufficient to allow students to practice how the meeting will go and boost their confidence ahead of the conference.

As well as encouraging students to take a more active role in their learning experience, student-led conferences can also increase the rate of parent attendance at these type of meetings and sessions. When parents or caregivers see that their child is excited about the conference and taking an active role, they are more likely to attend and partake themselves. Instead of simply receiving information from their child’s teacher, a student-led meeting enables parents to discuss learning strategies, achievements and issues with both the teacher and student, and encourages parents to take an active role at home too.

Student engagement is critical to academic success and student-led conferences are proving to be an effective way of increasing engagement among students, parents and teachers. The collaborative approach harnessed in student-led meetings has proven to be beneficial for all parties and, due to its success, student-led conferences are becoming increasingly commonplace in schools across the US.

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