Sunday, October 28, 2007

Not Your Parents’ Parent-Teacher Conferences

At Arapahoe, we hold parent-teacher conferences in both the fall (two nights) and the spring (one night). Teachers are available from 4:00 until 7:30 each night for 5-7 minute conversations with parents. Parents are strongly encouraged to attend, but it is optional.

Many teachers at Arapahoe have been frustrated by how often those conferences tend to focus on grades, with parents wanting to know what students need to do to get their C to a B, or their B to an A. We are asking our students to really focus on the learning, not the grade, so it’s frustrating when this opportunity to talk with parents so often focuses on the grade (especially because they have real-time access to teachers’ gradebooks through our Infinite Campus Parent Portal).

This year Anne Smith was one teacher that decided to try something different.
Instead of concentrating on my students' progress via their grades in class, I conducted conferences with their learning as the focus. I asked my students to reflect on their learning based on the following questions:

  • Assess your learning in class so far this semester. Look at your participation, growth in writing, comprehension, etc..
  • Where, in terms of your learning, do you want to be at the end of the semester?
  • How are you going to get there?
  • What can I do to help?
  • Write a message to your parents.

The students then were asked to bring home a copy of their learning assessment for their parents to read before conferences as well as place a copy in my class drop box for me to access at conferences.

It seemed to work well.
What was difficult about this whole process was that 5 minutes for conferences was definitely not long enough. I had actual conversations with parents about their child and feel like I took away more from them about how their child is growing as a learner, or how their child needs to grow as a learner. I felt like I listened as much as I talked which is a huge change from the way I participated in conferences before. I was the one relaying all my information to the parent rather than allowing them to give me insight into their child and react to what their child had written.
Click through to her post to read samples of what some students’ wrote, and also read the 47 comments (as of this writing) from both students and parents. Because Anne took it a step farther,

I am going to ask my students and hopefully their parents to comment on this process as well. Yep, that's right I want the parents to create blogger accounts as well so they can participate in the conversation. After all, that was my goal all around to create a conversation about learning.
Definitely not your parents’ parent-teacher conferences.

From talking with Anne I think this worked very well, but I agree with her that 5-7 minutes is not enough for these important conversations (it was usually more than enough to talk about grades.) I also think we should have students at these conferences, although what Anne did was the next best thing. The more we can have students, parents, and teachers involved in conversations centered around learning, not simply grades, the better.

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