Parent Communication and Involvement

Student-Led Parent Conferences
Renee Goularte

I started doing student-led conferences in the mid-1990's when I was working with a partner in a Multiage Primary classroom with first, second, and third graders. We developed a conference booklet that was slightly different for students in different levels, although they all followed the same format.

I schedule my conferences for a half hour so that I can overlap them if necessary. This is possible because for the first fifteen minutes students and parents work together without me, following the checklist in the conference booklet. In the second fifteen minutes of the conference time, we all meet together to discuss the students' work and his or her responses on the "Reflection Questions" part of the conference booklet. While I am meeting with one student and parent team, another team may be in the classroom going through the first part of the conference.

The conference booklet is simply one sheet of paper folded in half. On MS Word, the front and back are one page, and the inside is another page; they are copied back to back to make the booklet. It's arranged like this:

 front: Conference Booklet / <date> / line for child's name
inside left: checklist of things to do
inside right: reflection questions with space for responses
back: "Comments" (at top of page, page is otherwise blank

Since my classroom structure changes each year with student needs, the checklist on the conference booklet also changes each year. Basically, there are six or seven things for the student and parent to do together. These span the curriculum and especially touch on things that we do often. An example of things to could be:

Read your last journal entry with your parent.
Read today's "Morning Message" with your parent.
Read the wall with your parent.
Show your parent your writing file and read some of your writing together.
Show your parent your word cards.
Explain the calendar activities to your parent.
Using pattern blocks, build a pattern with your parent and read it together.

The "Reflection Questions" on the facing page of the booklet ask for a written response. The parent asks the child the questions and writes the child's response. The questions are generally some form of the following:

What are you best at?
What is hard for you?
How do you help other students learn?
How do other students help you learn?

When the student and his or her parent have finished completing all the tasks and discussing the questions, they meet with me. (If they have not finished during the fifteen minutes and there is a conference scheduled immediately following their time slot, I have them meet with me anyway and then finish up the tasks later. This seldom happens.) During the meeting time, I ask the student questions specific to his or her work and their responses to the questions. I ask if there are any questions or comments about the tasks they did together. We compare an early writing sample with a recent one, and go through the portfolio of student work samples that have been collected (by me) since the beginning of the year. One question I always ask is, "How has your writing changed?"

 Other questions asked at this time might be:

"What do you enjoy most about school?"
"Why do you think <whatever> is easy for you?
"Why do you think <whatever> is hard for you?
"What would make it easier?"
"Who is the classroom can you ask for help with <whatever>"?

Depending on the complexity of the report card, I sometimes actually fill it out during the conference. I save the "comments" section for a student goal. This goal is chosen by the student, who is encouraged to consider where he or she needs the most improvement. In several years of these conferences, I have only had a small handful of students (even as young as first grade) who could not come up with a goal. When that happened, I would first point out where the student said he or she had difficulty, and then suggest a goal if the student could still not decide on one. Before ending the conference, I always as the student AND the parent if they have any further questions.

Renee Goularte is an elementary teacher and writer who has worked with students from Kindergarten through Sixth Grade. She has been teaching since 1988, and has a Master's Degree in Elementary Education. Her favorite book on teaching reading is Radical Reflections by Mem Fox.


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