I have 22 students this year. I have two sets of twins. So, I'm working with twenty families. I sent out a Google form about three weeks before our November conferences. I described the conference options in the form. Parents had a choice. I outlined the options in the form.
In the end, 86 percent of the students I teach led their own conferences. Interestingly, four of these families originally signed up for traditional conferences. Their own children influenced their decision to move forward with a student-led conference. Even though five families originally signed up for the hybrid option, in the end, only one ended up using hybrid option. Typically, at the end of the student-led portion, I ask if we need to move into the traditional portion of the conference. I'm never surprised when parents say that it isn't necessary. The one that required the traditional portion truly did need that time. The student's iep meeting is coming up and there were a few things, like testing, that needed to be discussed without the student present.
My big take-away is this: student-led conferences, even at the fourth-grade level, can provide families with all the information about student-learning and progress toward the standards if done right.
After each of the conferences, I asked students if they were happy with their conference and especially, their conference choice. Students were. In fact, each said that they'll opt for the student-led conference in March.
I think that it is truly the preparation that makes the student-led conference work for both families and students. The students, due to their preparation, felt very confident going into their conferences. The preparation that students did in advance ensured that the conference hit upon all areas of student learning and growth. As a result, families received a complete picture of the student's progress.
In addition to clearly communicating about student progress, the student-led conference allowed my students to sit in the driver's seat. Having a voice at this table gave students agency and inspired them to set goals and plan for their future learning in ways they'd never done before. One of the most rewarding by-products for me was watching parents look at their students with such pride. I know that many of them are sitting beside their child in awe because in their hearts they know that their kiddo is doing something that they couldn't do at their age. The truth is that the kids in my room are doing something that I couldn't do at their age either. Education has certainly changed since the adults in the room were in fourth-grade. That, in and of itself, is a relief.
Curious about the preparation? Here is the Student Preparation Worksheet that we use. Do you use student-led conferences? I'd love to hear about your experiences.