This Thursday and Friday we had student led conferences at my school. This is the culmination of over a week of preparation and anticipation as we approach spring break. Typically, the children gather their work in each of the core curriculum areas, and art, to share with their parents. The children write reflections as to why they chose particular pieces, and use these reflections to talk with their parents about their work. If there is time then parents sit down with me for a chat.
Even though I support the concept of student-led conferences I have not been satisfied with how they’ve gone in the past; something hasn’t felt right about my level of participation. I’ve come to the conclusion that while it’s important to give students space to discuss their work privately with parents, it is equally valuable for all of us to engage in conversations that help extend the connections between school and home. In the interest of changing things up a bit and because parents have also expressed the desire to spend more time talking with the teacher, I decided to try something different this year. I instituted three-way conferences every 15 minutes.
But, let me back up a bit since you may be confused at this point. The way we do conferences at our school is that four families share a one-hour slot. They can use the entire hour or just a part of it. During this time the child, who has been preparing for a week or more for this event, shares the work with his or her parents. If necessary, the teacher is nearby to nudge or guide the conference but is more or less in the background during this time. With three-way conferences the intent is to initiate and sustain a conversation among parents, student, and teacher.
Until we actually got started I hadn’t quite decided how I was going to proceed with these conversations. So, I asked the children to bring a piece of work to talk about. While some did, most of the children chose not to. If a child brought something to talk about, we did that first. Then, I asked them two simple questions: what part of the school day is going well for you, and what part of the school day isn’t going well for you? Depending on their answers, I probed with more questions to get them to expand on their initial responses. Next, I asked the parents for their comments, concerns, or questions. These usually elicited another conversation thread. Finally, I spoke up if I needed to add anything to the discussion.
This experience reminded me of the value of one-on-one interviews with children. All of the children were articulate and seemed eager to have a voice in the conversation about their learning. I learned a lot from them about what’s going well and what isn’t and why. In some cases, it confirmed what I had already observed and, in others, I got new information about my students’ learning. I jotted important notes about particular children that will prompt me to make changes when we get back from spring break.
Have you have tried three-way conferences before? How did they work for you? Did you use any conversation structures or protocols that worked for you? I look forward to your comments.