This week, my students prepared for student-led conferences. They reflected on their learning by identifying important knowledge in four distinct areas: reading, writing, math, and Spanish. Then, they wrote these self-assessments as “I know” statements. Some examples are: I know how to check for understanding; I know how to add and subtract; I know how to make connections when I’m reading; I know how to stay on topic. “How do you know you can do this?” I would ask them. “Why is this important to know?” “How does knowing how to do this help you as a reader (writer, math student, Spanish learner)?”
Next, my students had to find examples of work that clearly demonstrated this learning. If they couldn’t respond to my questions they would need to start this process over again. And, if their evidence didn’t match their learning they would need to go back to their work and search for examples that did. Finally, they had to edit their writing and organize their work on their desks so that it would be available for viewing during conferences.
I conferred one-on-one with each child throughout the week to support their emergent self-awareness as learners. This wasn’t an easy process; sometimes they’d sigh loudly as I asked them to dig deeper for evidence or for statements to back up their findings. However, with support, many of my students were able to create suitable statements around their learning and to identify work that showed this understanding. I found this process was less stressful and painful than in the past. And, I think I know why.
At the start of our school day, one student, usually the student teacher of the day (class helper), writes a morning message to the class. I blogged about morning messages a few months ago after attending a session with a grade one teacher and others at the National Council of Teachers Annual Conference in Orlando. (For an explanation of how I’m doing morning messages go to http://waingortgrade2spanishbilingual.blogspot.com/2010/12/morning-message.html) But, this process has been evolving and a new post about these changes is overdue. Until then the previous link will give readers a window into what morning message looks like in my classroom. At first, all we did was check for understanding – what did you learn about Taylor, for example, from her morning message? Later, we began asking questions or making comments about a child’s message. Now, we are articulating our noticings about what each message tells us that child knows how to do as a writer. The child who wrote the morning message starts out by saying what the message shows s/he knows about writing. Then, we open it up to the class for their observations. I started out by writing the observations on a separate sheet of paper that was only visible to me, but now I write these on sticky notes and attach them directly onto the message.
So, what does this have to do with student-led conferences? First of all, these whole class opportunities have allowed the children to think through what they are learning to do and to notice what their classmates are also learning to do as writers. Sometimes the statements we make show that a child is beginning to do something, and at other times it is clear that s/he is already doing it consistently and so it becomes a statement of fact. An added perk that has come from these conversations is that the children will occasionally mention something they think is not correct in a message or ask a question about the use of a particular convention (one child wanted to know about the use of semi colons), which has given me numerous opportunities (teachable moments) to intentionally teach something that the children are curious about and want to understand better.
These discussions have been enlightening and inspiring for me as a teacher, and they have made it easier for the children to reflect on their learning for their student-led conferences. Yet, as powerful as this learning has been, I am cognizant of the fact that children don’t always transfer their learning from one area of the curriculum, or the school day, to another. This was evidenced as I observed the children having a harder time identifying their learning in subject areas other than writing for student-led conferences. I intend to help them to make this transition through whole class reflection times during other parts of our day.