This is part of Marion Ivey’s Getting Better Together series, Moving From I Can’t To I Can’t Yet. Marion and all the Teaching Channel Laureates are going public with their practice and seeking support in getting better from colleagues and the Tch community.
In the district where I teach, our student-led conferences are celebrated. In kindergarten, we ask families to bring their child with them so that the student can share what they’ve been working on at school.
One of the first things I do during family conferences is ask the student to identify two things they’d like to get better at. I provide a list of options they can choose from based on skills or tasks I’d like them to get better at. I provide a wide range because my students have a wide range of skills, and I want to be certain that there’s something each of them can choose that’s appropriate.
I encourage the child to select skills that are challenging. It’s my opinion that if a student has helped determine their goals, they’re more likely to focus attention on achieving them. In our classroom, each student has a drawer where they keep their supplies, since we use tables rather than desks. They put their two goals on the front of the drawer as a reminder of what they’re focusing on; the intent is that each time they go to their drawer, they’ll see their goals and it will help them focus their work.
The next step in the conference is to go over the student’s demonstrated performance in class to that point in the year. We look at what the student’s strengths and needs are, what’s coming up in the trimester, as well as some things that the family can be working on at home to focus their support. At this point, I ask students to bring over their journal and show their parents the writing they’ve been working on in class. Parents also get the opportunity to ask questions or make any comments they may have.
Once I’ve answered questions to their satisfaction, it’s time for the family to move through stations. The student leads the way and shows what she or he is working on in class. I explain to the families that meeting with me constituted the first station. The remaining three are a shared writing station, a math station, and a reading station.
Shared Writing Station: In anticipation of conferences, I send families a letter asking them to bring a photograph of their child or their family with them to the conference. At the shared writing station, I ask the family to write together about the photograph. If a family forgets to bring a photograph, I take a picture of them and print it for them to use while we’re together. They’ve looked at the student journal during their meeting with me and they have an idea of the kind of writing that the student has been producing. The student does the writing with the support of the family.
Math Station: I choose a partner activity that illustrates the student’s ability to work cooperatively as well as demonstrate math skills. This year it was a dice board game. I ask the family to play the game together.
Reading Station: At the final station, the student reads a leveled book to her or his family. The leveled readers that are part of our reading curriculum come in three colors. I attach a class list to the box with the leveled readers, and each student’s name is highlighted by one of the three colors to indicate their “just right” level. The student chooses a book that has the same color as their name. Once students have read the “just right” book, they’re welcome to choose from either or both of the other levels as well. That way, families have a feel for how those levels are different.
The conferences are scheduled in 20-minute increments. Twenty minutes is the time each family has to meet with me, but parents and guardians may take as much time as they want to move through the other three stations. The length of time the family stays varies depending on a number of factors, including their child’s reading fluency, interest in showing their family other parts of the classroom, proficiency with writing, and also how many times the family decides to play the math game. I’ve had as many as four families in the classroom at the same time!
To schedule my conferences, I’ve begun using a website called SignUpGenius, which has really simplified my conference scheduling procedure. I can provide a list of conference times for parents online and they can choose any open time and schedule themselves without my involvement. Should something change and they need to reschedule, they can go back to the program and choose again from the slots available. The program also sends them an email to remind them of their time a few days in advance
What do you do to involve your students in your conferences? Let’s share in the comments below.
Marion is a kindergarten teacher in Oak Park, Illinois. She has been teaching since 1992, most of that time in kindergarten. Marion is a member of the Illinois Writing Project and the Collaboration for Early Childhood. She currently teaches full day kindergarten at Longfellow Elementary School. Connect with Marion on Twitter: @Mrs_Ivey_says.