Celebrate: Student-Led Conferences

A few years ago, I made a shift to student-led conferences. At the time, many students had never done this type of conference and were at a loss for words. To make it more accessible, I prepped them, gave them questions to direct their thinking. The work was valuable, but it took a lot of class time.

This year, I let the work and the child speak with no prep. There might be some silent moments. But, I thought the process was necessary. The conference could be an assessment of sorts.

I started each conference by asking: What do you want to talk about first? Reading or writing? Some didn’t care. Others showed clear preferences. Their response to that question was telling.

Some students were uncomfortable. They needed prompts. There were silent moments. Most jumped in and rose to the task, approximating the work.

Students read their writing, their responses to reading, explained their self-assessments and compared their assessments to mine.  We talked about the differences. Looked for evidence.  Adjusted our thinking, identified what could be done to lift the level of the work, and made new goals.

One student kept stopping to edit as he read. The “oh I messed up” turned to “that is what writers do. We read and re-read our work and to make it better.”

I listened to another student read her writing. It was better than I had originally thought. We looked at the work and discovered she had instinctively punctuated each run on sentence, giving it meaning and voice. Hearing her read brought it to life and demonstrated the need for punctuation. I couldn’t have planned a better writing conference.

Every student showed what they understood and where we need to work. Many students made decisions to revise their writing. They couldn’t help but notice what was missing; they could have done more. One student reflected on how he had thought about putting things into his writing, and in fact, thought he had. But after looking, he realized, his thoughts never made it to the page.

Conferencing with parents this way was a natural outgrowth of the work we do in class.

This week, I celebrate student-led conferences not only to inform parents but as incredible learning time. Thank you, Ruth Ayers, for Celebrate this Week link up. Find more celebrations here.

celebrate link up

Celebrate: Student-Parent Conferences

Every weekend I land here for reflection. Thank you, Ruth, for the space to meet with others and share.  We need to take the time to stop and notice the good. It’s always there even when things aren’t just right yet. Click here to read more celebrations.

celebrate link up

I deal with little humans. Little in stature and little in experience. They are new to the game. Their “newness” is a gift and a challenge.  That’s why parenting and teaching are the best and hardest jobs.

This week was all about conferring with students and parents. Together. Two parents, often a sibling or two, flanking the child. I’m there with my partner teacher. All eyes on this little person.

Some students revel in the spotlight. Ready and willing to share all they have done and all they plan to do.

Other students worry. Their eyes downcast.

We, teachers and parents, want the best for the child in front of us.

Sitting in the teacher’s seat, I am grateful for being a part of a child’s learning life. A year has been handed to me. I’m honored.

Parents love their child with every inch of their being. They worry. The love and worry manifests in many ways. Are they on grade level?  What does my child need to work on? What can we do?

I start by asking, “How’s the year going?”

Students share.  Some without hesitation.  Others with one-word answers. “Good.”

Then, “Say more about that.”

If we listen, we hear some answers.

Me: What are your reading goals?

T: To track the problems and how the character deals with them.

Me: How have you have done that? Maybe share a read aloud story.

T goes on to discuss Yard Sale by Eve Bunting. He recounts the problem: they have to sell everything because they are moving to a small apartment. How the character handled this: at first she was upset, and then she understood.

Me: So why do you think the family had to move out of the house to the small apartment.

T: Hmmm. Maybe because they need to go to a nicer neighborhood?

Me: Maybe. Or maybe…

T: Hmmm. Maybe… I’m not sure.

Me: Why might someone move from something big with lots of stuff to something small with less?

T: (Long pause.) I don’t know.

Me: Could it be something to do with money?

T: Oh yeah, maybe taxes got too high. Or maybe someone lost a job.

Me: Maybe. The author didn’t tell us, did she. She’s asking us to figure it out on our own. Sometimes we need to take what the writer gives us and fill the holes they leave with our understanding of the world. When we do that, we interpret the story, and it becomes ours.

All the while parents are listening.

Me: When we work on filling the holes the author leaves us, it’s called inferring.

I look at the parents. “Does that help?”

They nod.

The good news, he’s growing, and we know what to work on. The better news, you’ll be there to see it.

That’s the beauty of parenting and teaching.

This week I celebrate the gift of students, parents and teachers who give time to listen and learn together.

Celebrate This Week: Student Reflection

It’s time to Celebrate This Week with Ruth Ayers. Thank you, Ruth, for this weekly practice and place to share our lives. Read more celebrations here.

celebrate link up

This week I noticed a subtle change in our classroom. There is a level of comfort and a sense of urgency.

It happens every year, and every year it’s different.  The difference is the child. This is their year.

Every time I sit with a child, I’m looking for their next step. What instruction do they need right now? Can they hold on independently in this place with this text, or do they need support? For how long? In what way? How can they reach for independence? What tools might help sustain independence? That is the beauty and purpose of assessments, formal and informal. Not for just the number or letter on a spreadsheet, but for what we do next.

And there are excellent tools available to help measure and guide student understanding. More than ever before.

This week I celebrate an assessment that doesn’t show up on any report or print out. One that moves the ownership towards those that need to do the work: student self-assessment.

This week we started student-led conferences. Students sit beside their parents and reflect on 1) what they can do well and 2) what is difficult.  That reflection pushes students to name where they are and what they struggle with. This is powerful work that can be revisited and reflected on again and again.

If you think this is too difficult for students, consider Trevor Bryan’s post here that describes a flexible and replicable  reflection process. He asks students: is the task easy, just right or difficult. And then, why. Simple and I’d argue an essential step for learning.

This week, and this year, I celebrate regular student reflection.  Without this piece, our students miss out on a tool that could move them towards continual independent growth.

Celebrating the Dialogue and the Possibilities

celebrate link upI love Saturday mornings. It gives me the opportunity to look back on the week and celebrate all the good. Thank you Ruth Ayers for creating a weekly celebration opportunity. Find out more here how you can start this practice.

My first celebration is for all of the people in my personal learning network (world) that responded to a call I made on twitter. Within five minutes I couldn’t keep up with the tweets. Not only from the folks I called upon but others.

The pros and cons of student-led conferences were discussed, as well as the time it took, how to make it positive, and how to avoid potential pitfalls. Lovely posts, direct messages and emails continued. Amazing. I now have a great place to start my thinking about how my students will enter this work.

The second celebration is the #TCRWP chat on argument and debate hosted by Maggie B. Roberts. My fifth graders are just starting with a Monday debate series, so this was perfect. So many smart people out there doing the work: basically holding up a flashlight so I can go down that path without hitting too many walls.  I want to celebrate this outstanding chart that guides students through the physical and mental process of debate.

If this was all I got out of the chat, I would be thrilled. But there was much more. The resources shared in this chat were overwhelming. I celebrate this archive and all of the contributors to it. This is a place I will go to study and grow my beginning practice as at teacher of debate.

Ah, the beauty of twitter. It’s not just the ideas, but the dialogue that I cherish. IT’s the people who question, try, and then share their results as possibilities. I celebrate the dialogue and am honored to be a part of it. 

The third celebration is for poetry. My students and I are getting a little more comfortable in the world of metaphor. We read “How is Meadow an Ocean?” by Laura Purdie Salas and then found a connection in The One and Only Ivan: “…her eyes are like Stella’s, black and long-lashed, bottomless lakes fringed by tall grass.” Ah Ivan is a poet!  And then there was this response to the poem on a student’s blog

My fourth celebration is for two days to reflect and reconnect. This weekend, time seems abundant and pressures lessened. I have no commitments. There is extra time. Time to take a little longer shower. Time to drink a cup of coffee at a table, not in the car. Time to read a newspaper article, a post and think about the next thing. Time to consider possibilities.