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Why Student-led Conferences?

October 29, 2015
By Joyce Blum, Director of Student Learning Initiatives

Parent-teacher conferences have been part of Cascade Christian Schools since its beginning. Communication with parents about their child’s progress and the opportunity to see samples of their work kept all the key players in the loop – or so we thought. There was one key player missing when these discussions were taking place: the student.

Our desire at CCS is to help each student become the person God desires them to be. Part of that process is to teach them how to do that for themselves, with guidance from the adults in their lives. When a whole discussion about a child takes place – discussion measuring their progress and setting goals in academics, spiritual growth, personal/social behavior and leadership – without the student having a stake in that conversation, it sends the message that the teacher and the parent are the ones responsible for the growth in that student. Then the student has an excuse to take a passive role in their education.

What is valuable about student-led conferences is not just the conference, but the preparation that takes place in the months prior to the conference. Each student keeps a portfolio of selected work. Students are instructed to select work that reflects their learning.

This does not mean they will necessarily select a perfect paper. They may chose a piece that shows several mistakes and then reflect on how they worked through those mistakes and learned from that process. To only select work that is perfect, is not a true picture of the student, and does not show how that student learns and processes information. Teachers will also select work from the students they feel is reflective of who they are as a learner. The portfolio will also contain learning goals set by the student and teacher together. These goals are based on where the student is currently and where they should be by the next conference or by the end of the year.

There is strong evidence that when students are involved in setting their learning goals, then verbalize those goals to their teachers and parents, and are then held accountable to those goals, they will rise to the occasion and own their learning. This is an important step in helping children become life-long learners.

Teachers prepare students for the conference. They talk with the students how to present their work, their goals, and how to handle questions. In the student-led conference, the teacher now becomes the facilitator and advocate for the student, while the student guides the conversation. The conversations that ensue are centered on helping the student achieve their goals. The parent becomes a support, rather than the one responsible, and the student agrees that they are in charge of their learning.

Here is a helpful article that talks about each person’s role in student-led conferences. It will give the reader a clear picture of the whys and how it all works.

It is our desire at Cascade Christian that these conferences help both student and parent have a clearer understanding of their learning process. We want to prepare and empower students to take charge of their learning, setting them up for success as life-long learners.

Sandra VanAlstine says:
October 29, 2015 08:48 PM CST
Excellent philosophy! Thank you!

Cindy Richardson says:
November 04, 2015 08:47 AM CST
This seems like a wonderful idea. How did it actually work out in practice?

Joyce Blum says:
November 05, 2015 10:59 AM CST
Our conferences happen at the end of next week, and we will report back in the near future! We had a small pilot program last year with excellent feedback from both parents and students.