Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Student-Led Conferences - Um, Yes Please! Part One

Ok, so maybe I have been promising to write this post for like 2 weeks now.  Let's just say the productivity level around here has hit an all time low.  It's been sunny, breezy, and perfectly perfect spring weather and I may or may not have gotten bit by the spring fever bug!

But...I digress!  (Grrr...see how this vicious cycle works!)

I just finished up meeting with 21 of my students and their families for our spring student-led conferences.  Can I just say how much I truly LOVE these things!!!

3 reasons why...and I'm sure there are more, but since I am slacking a bit...we'll stick to 3! 
 (PS - Did I mention it is officially our spring break...but again...I digress!)

#1:  More work for the kids equals less work for me!  Win and win!

#2:  Parents eat this stuff up...some of them even cry big ol' alligator tears of joy!

#3:  The kiddos' hearts swell with pride at all they have accomplished!  Swoon!

So...if you are thinking "well that all sounds pretty darn awesome" then read on for lots of details and photos to show you just how SWEET these spring conferences can be!

So this 1st part is coming straight from our other post about regular conferences since the sign-up process is the same!

The BEST thing we EVER did was to begin using this "You Pick 3" conference sign up sheet.  We don't have scheduled time off to hold our conferences, so we just choose 3 days that work out for us.  We include as many time slots as possible where we can be available to meet with families.  We always try to include some early morning times for our families that can't take off work or who are just coming in from the night shift.  We schedule slots during our specials classes (music, pe...) and then plenty of after school time slots as well.  We try to have at least 1 late night where we have conferences scheduled for 5:00 or later for our working parents who hit us on their way home.  
Now I know this might seem like a BIG time commitment from you...and it is!  BUT, and this is a BIG but, this is truly one of the BEST ways you could ever possibly spend your teacher time!  It always breaks my heart a teeny bit when the only time some parents hear from us is when something is WRONG!  Conferences give you the opportunity to REALLY connect with families and share some of the GREAT things happening with their kiddo.  Of course not ALL the news will be good news, but we can definitely take this opportunity to FIND the good and share!
And we promise it will SO be worth your time.  You will make some serious partners in educating your kiddos when you build these strong family ties!  And let's be honest, who doesn't LOVE to hear how awesome their kiddo is???
We have been able to get nearly 100% participation in our conferences for the last several years.

And in the case of student-led conferences, who doesn't LOVE to hear how amazing their kiddo is RIGHT FROM SAID KIDDO'S MOUTH!!!!

So now that we have the parents signed up to come in, it's time for the students to get busy on their part.  It takes a little time explaining the conference form to the kids, but they usually catch on pretty quickly.  Here's how we break it down.  

First we have them take out their math journals that they have been working on throughout the year. We ask them to choose 2 entries they would like to share with their families.  Entries include open-ended math journals pages, problem of the day entries, and any other math related activities we have done.  If you don't keep math journals, you can have your students choose 2 pieces of recently completed math work sheets, math recording sheets from Math Their Way or some similar program, really anything that allows them to "show what they know" in math.  We do like for them to be able to share some open-ended response kinds of things so they can explain THEIR reasoning versus selecting pieces with only 1 "right" answer!  Then they fill in the MATH portion on their recording form to reflect their strengths and weaknesses in math in their own opinion.

Next, we work on the WRITING portion.  Again they take out their writing journals and select 2 pieces. Only this time they select 1 piece from August or September and 1 piece from the current our case it was March.  I give them 2 sticky notes to mark the pages they want to share with their families.  They reflect on where they started the year in writing and how far they have come.  They make notes to share on their conference form.  I. LOVE. THIS. PART!  The kiddos themselves truly have NO IDEA just how far they have come until they actually look back in their journals.  We even had a kiddo last year that literally screamed out in distress to tell us "Somebody wrote all in my journal and I can't read ANY of it!"  It was actually HER own writing from the beginning of school!  HA!  Now that was FUNNN-Y!

Finally, they fill in the last section for the READING portion.  They look through their Daily 5 book boxes that have "good fit" books for them.  We tell them to choose the highest level they have in their box that they can SUCCESSFULLY read.  (If it's a good fit, that means there may be SOME words that they do not know automatically.  They SHOULD be using some strategies to figure out words, but there should still be a nice, fluent read happening.)  You can meet with students to make sure they have selected a good fit pick for them, but usually by this time in the year...they do an awesome job with this all on their own!  We will give them another sticky note for them to mark the book they select.  It makes the conference flow much more smoothly when we can reach right into their box and quickly find the book they have chosen!

Now don't stress out if they don't write up the form just like you envision (as in... Sophia wrote all about geometry in her math section rather than telling about her strengths and weaknesses in math). It's ok, I promise.  She'll be sharing 2 math samples which will give her the opportunity to show much more of her mathematical thinking!
Translation:  (Although I know you teacher friends are masters at reading K work by now!) 
Math:  I can make a rectangle and make a hexagon and a octagon.
Writing:  I write on the line and better stories and on the lines.  I can write sight words.
Reading:  A Hot Surprise I can chunk and blend and flip the sound and listen for interesting words.

The last section, Personal Goal for the 4th 9 Weeks, is completed together at the actual more on that later!

Check back soon for more details from the ACTUAL conference!  (Remember...I did already mention that the productivity level is teetering on NON-existent!...This was all the blogging I could muster for tonight!)

Check back soon for how we gather data as to the success of our conferences!

Also be sure and check out our post from a while back about our REGULAR teacher-parent conferences to see how we get nearly 100% participation!

Please let us know if you have questions, comments, or insights to add!

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