Posted by: Kathy Cassidy | November 21, 2010

Look What I’ve Learned!

I’ve been doing student-led conferences for a few years now.

My students all have a blog linked from mine, and each child’s blog is an online portfolio of their learning in many subject areas.  In preparation for the conference, the students choose three things from their blog that they think is their best work.   I record these (just in case they forget!) and then we practice what will happen during our conference.  We set the classroom up in the way it will be when we share with our parents, and a few students get to model what they will do when their parents are there.

During the actual conference, the children share their three chosen posts with their parents and talk about what they did well and what they would like to get better at.  Then, we set a learning goal for the next term and talk about what things their parents, themselves and I will have to do so that they can reach that goal.  The children love to choose posts with images, so that gives us an opportunity to discuss some of our learning goals outside of the more traditional reading and writing areas.

Students love being part of this process and it is interesting to see some students who are quite quiet in class confidently share (and sometimes vice versa!).  Most parents are thrilled to watch their children as the centre of attention.

This year, our whole school division held student-led conferences, so the parents were asked in a note from the school office to request a separate meeting if they had a lot of questions or things that they wished to discuss.  The conference time was to be about the students sharing what they had learned and discussing their goals.

Somehow this year that message did not reach everyone.  Some parents still wanted to have a traditional conference and get information from the teacher, not their child. This is obviously something that we (and I in particular) have to do a better job of communicating to parents. Parents are familiar with the system that they grew up with–the parent and teacher discuss the child, who generally stays at home.  I spend time modelling and making sure that the students know how to do their part, so it seems only fair that I put time and effort into making sure that the parents also know what their new role is as well.

Like all change, that will take some time.



  1. I encountered a mixed reaction. Most parents accepted the new format. Many reacted as you report and tried to overwhelm their child’s presentation by returning it to the familiar parent-teacher discussion — all too often with the child as either passive listener or whipping-boy meekly listening to the parent’s “advice” on ways to improve. I am humbled by the number of my young people who led their conferences successfully. They can do it and I was wrong to doubt them. Thirty years and I still underestimate young people.

  2. […] Look What I’ve Learned! « Primary Preoccupation RT @kathycassidy: Look What I've Learned! My student-led conference reflections. (tags: […]

  3. Ms. Cassidy,

    My name is Alissa Logan. I am in Dr. Strange’s class. I absolutely love this idea! After watching your video about “Little Kids…Big Potential” I realized I was holding my own child back from using the computer. I thought he was too young because he is six years old. I have now decided to let him use my net book, and have the talk with him about the internet. Thank you for opening up my eyes to this. I have always said, “I want every student to know they can do anything they put their mind to”, but I was not doing that with my own child.

    I am sure if you can open my eyes to introducing the computer and internet to children as young as five years old…then you can open the eyes of your parents to a different style of parent teacher conference. Since I am a parent as well, I would have enjoyed your way of doing this instead of the old fashion way. Do not let this stop you from doing it again. I believe parents and teachers need to realize things are changing and this is the way of the future.

  4. Kathy, you are simply amazing! I’m in awe. My conferences start tomorrow. I have 26 manila folders (mostly) ready to go. I’ll put a laptop on the conference table and go to the kids/ blogs when we talk about writing, but…

  5. Thank you! I love to hear of someone in the younger grades who has been having a good experience with this type of conference.

    Our school district implemented student led goal-setting conferences district wide as of this year. I am both a student teacher in two different classrooms and a parent, so I was in the position of experiencing it from both sides of the table, so to speak. As a parent, I was much happier because this was the first time that I had heard my son speak up about himself in that type of situation and I think he learned more from the experience than he might have otherwise. For once, he wasn’t twiddling his thumbs and staring at the floor! He was actively participating.

    As a student teacher, I was extremely proud of how our students handled themselves, and it was great to see the pride that they took in their work. I felt that it was a much more meaningful process than what they had experienced before.

    I did notice that the conferences went differently depending on how the teacher felt about the new format. One teacher I talked to felt that her students were too young to set goals and lead their own conferences, and as a consequence, she ended up reverting to the familiar teacher-parent talk with kid just staring at the table. Sometimes I think that attitude can make or break change.

    How long have you been having student led conferences? What kind of benefits have you seen?

    • I can’t remember exactly when I started using student led conferences, but I know for sure I was doing them three years ago. The students do love being involved and being “in charge”, as I said in the article. I can’t quantify its effect on their learning, but I like to have them involved in the discussion because it is about them.

  6. I love the idea of student led conferences! It’s great that your students have the opportunity to take ownership of their learning. As a student teacher, it’s helpful for me to learn such a variety of ways to do things.

    What do you think the drawbacks are of students being in charge of their conference?

  7. Hello Mrs. Cassidy,

    I am from Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 Class at The University of South Alabama. I absolutely love this idea. Having the students criticize their own work to their parents is great. Not only does it help the student but also the parent. I read one of your comments where someone said how that it will be hard for parents to accept this new change. I agree but I think that it will me more of a benefit than to hurt them. Thank you for posting this.

  8. I was just introduced to student-lead conferences this month. I am a pre-service teacher and had the opportunity to observe a student lead conference in a third grade classroom. The pride the student felt showing her work, her parent’s proud response, the three of them (student, parent and teacher) sitting together as a community- setting goals, talking about strengths and areas of growth as a team was such a joy to see. I like how you incorporated the blog. This is something I haven’t seen and will try when I have my own classroom.

  9. I love love love this student led conference idea! I am currently not a parent but I have been teaching primary ballet for 5 years now and love it when the ballerinas open up to me with their favorite part of ballet, or when they come to me and say “look what I’ve been practicing” and even when they are vocal about their lives or the day they had… it helps me get to know them better and in turn furthers the connection we have, that hopefully leads to a better teaching environment! Like i mentioned above, I am not a parent yet but hope to be someday, and when that day arrives and I am sitting in my child’s classroom, I cannot wait to hear what they have to say about school and subjects, etc and so forth! Great job!

  10. I am a pre-service teacher. I was wondering how I would work towards this if my future school does not have student led conferences. Also, how can I make it easy so as not to overwhelm myself those first few years of teaching? Any general advice for a pre-service teacher is also welcome.
    The Name of Your Blog

  11. Sam,
    If you would like to have student led conferences, I would suggest starting by talking to your principal. I was holding student-led conferences before the other teachers in my school, but there was no difficulty with this.
    I found that student led conferences are easier for me as a teacher. The focus is on the child instead of me to have things to say to the parents. If you find technology to be overwhelming, start by having traditional conferences with the portfolios in paper folders. We all take new steps each year. None of us starts out having “arrived”.
    Good luck in your teaching career!

  12. Hi Kathy, I am in Dr. Strange’s class at South Alabama. To start, I am not just here to finish an assignment. I am here to learn and I enjoy taking in what other teachers are doing in the class. Perfection is my ultimate goal and I always fall short but reading your blog is helping me get closer.

    I love the interaction you have incorporated with your students. I am sure it will help them remember what they have learned and give them honest self reflection upon their work. Getting parents involved in the process is great too since they will know exactly how to regulate future work with their children. It gives them a base of what level their child is on and they can press at home for them to reach higher levels of learning.

    For me, I have always been nervous and reluctant to stand in front of others and speak and this gives them a tremendous amount of self courage. Stretching the limits of their learning can be an amazing tool for their future in learning. I appreciate what you have done and will continue to do. You have inspired me and I have become more intelligent by reading your post. One thing I can always say is this; you can take everything I own, but you can never take my education. Thank you for hard work and these kids will thank you some day as well.

  13. Hi, I’m in Dr. Strange’s EDM310 class at the University of South Alabama. I really like the idea of including the students in the conference. Especially having them to explain their posts. So often kids are left and home and it’s just the teacher and parent discussing the child. This way to me the child feels important, while at the same time the teacher and parent sees what the needs of the child is. Thanks for your blog. I truly enjoyed.

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