Student Led Conferences are an incredibly reflective experience for all involved; teacher, student and families. This post will walk you through what I’ve found to work well over the years. Please read on, take what you like and enjoy.
Form: what is it?
The shift from a private, teacher led conference with parents to a student led conference is exactly as it states. The teacher takes a step back and is simply the facilitator of the students’ preparation prior to the conference and the child takes the lead on the day of the event, leading their family through a snap shot of what they have learned, how they learn and how they are progressing.
It is a simply amazing experience to see how children step up to the challenge. They are beaming with pride as they guide their family through their classroom and involve the parents in the process of their day to day learning. Even the most shy pull out their communication skills as they show their visitors around their classroom- a place where they feel comfortable and know.
Behind the Scenes:
Once the family invitation letters have been sent out, along with the parent information letter, “What Are Student Led Conferences”, the preparation for Student Led Conferences can be overwhelming at first. After 8 years, I’ve found the best way to prepare is to actually set aside time in the day for at least a week before the big day. This of course may have to be adjusted based upon your class’s age and your school schedule. But a few hours a day, for a week, does it for me. This preparation can easily be incorporated into writing, speaking and listening skills with group discussions and expressive arts with role play and craft.
Over the years, I have created a selection of tools and forms that make it easier to record goals, communicate with parents and reflect upon our learning. A selection are editable to suit my changing needs with each class. ( not to mention that I’ve switched from 3rd, 5th, 4th, 3rd and back to 5th in 5 years! Phew!) They are easy to print and go and mix and match. These can be found here in my store for free. Yup Free! 🙂
As an IB World school, our children have a record of their learning throughout the years kept within their Student Portfolios. This portfolio plays a key part in our reflection process. If you do not have a portfolio already created, I have a great selection of cover sheets to create your own, within my Student Led Conference Kit.
I like to have the children select pieces of their work that show their learning within Language, Maths, Social Studies/Science and Expressive Arts from our most recent unit of inquiry.( these are usually six week long, cross curricular units)
We focus on things that we are:
Demonstrate our progress
This can be something that we have displayed on our walls, photocopied from their notebook or taken from their working binder. Each piece is reflected upon with either a sentence or a short paragraph, depending on the ability level of the child. I like to put everything into clear plastic pockets and insert them all into our portfolio. I found a pack of 50 poly pockets for only $5.95 on Amazon. A couple boxes of these works for the entire year.
We spend a great deal of time reflecting within an IB PYP school. I have a previous blog post here that goes into this in more depth if you wish. Also, there is an easy to use Learner Profile check list found in my store for free. It’s great to use at any time for any subject. I make a bunch of copies and file them ready to use for any subject or for the end of our units of inquiry.
IB Learner Profile: With the Learner Profile as the centre of the PYP, I spend a bit of time in advance preparing the children to share their perspective of themselves as learners. This is a fun writing and craft activity and the kids LOVE it. ( and for me, the craft is the carrot at the end of the stick for those reluctant writers..hehe)
The children will write a detailed paragraph about themselves and their own learning style, using the Learner Profile vocabulary. With scaffold sheets within my complete kit, its easy to differentiate too. The edited final copy is written or typed in a speech bubble.
The children then create their own self portrait of head and shoulders, attach the speech bubble writing and, on the day of our Conferences, we tape the whole thing to our chairs, tuck the chairs in and voila, we have a class of cute learners just waiting patiently for their guests to visit. Parents love it! They can see where their child sits AND where their friends sit.
Providing a few activities that involves families allows the children to show their visitors how they learn within our classroom, initiates a natural collaboration amongst the adults and children and gives the family an idea of what we have been learning.
I love inquiry based learning activities. These are set out as stations around the classroom. I usually have two or three stations of each activity. This, I determine based upon the number I have visiting throughout the conferences. You will know this from your parent feedback returned after invitations have been sent home. I like to include writing, STEM and research tasks.
Included in my complete kit:
Research- webquest activity
STEM- identifying math with engineering activity
STEM- working through the scientific method designing glasses
Language- writing a triptych using inferring skills.
It is a very good idea to rehearse the whole conference procedure with your kiddos. Once I’ve gone over the scheduled routine with the class, we get into pairs and role play the conference. With my older kids I like to keep the activities a secret. Unseen adds to the authenticity of the inquiry experience. I’ve learned that it’s a good idea to let my younger kids see what’s coming, so that they can lead the activity. Some parents like to take over. And I encourage the kids to be the leader for this time.
Each child takes turns at being the leader and the guest. We then do some peer reviews and practice again with the constructive feedback.
With SLCs you will have several families visiting at one time. This can come as a surprise to some parents even though you’ve sent out the parent information letter. Keep it light-hearted and encourage them to allow their child to share. When you’re scheduling times, it’s a good idea NOT to have more than 4 families in your room at one time. It makes it more personal for the families, keeps the noise down so children’s voices can be heard and allows for better management of your inquiry stations. Try to keep visitors on schedule with a friendly ” five minutes to go” announcement. Otherwise it can become chaotic. ( been there, done that!)
All Right on the Night: no matter how much preparation you do, you can’t control every little detail or the quirks of excited children and their parents. So, once the children have introduced you to their family, quietly sink into the background and let the students lead their parent conference. Take loads of pics and add them to your next classroom blog, newsletter or website. Parents LOVE to see it all.
For those who know me, it’s not unusual for the restlessness to kick in and spark my wanderlust. I returned to Colorado only 18 months ago, after dragging my teenagers around for a year in France for heaven’s sake! The credit card is still recovering from the costs of shipping furniture across the Atlantic and back again! ( I do NOT recommend shipping your entire household goods, its cheaper to start afresh! But that’s a whole other blog post I suppose. ) Yet, here I go again…..planning, planning…my next adventure.
My wings are temporarily clipped however. A promise was made to my teenage children that we wouldn’t move again until they graduated high school. So, two years to plan. ? One can come up with a lot of mischief when given two years to think about it.
Keep in mind, when I travel, it isn’t for a two week package tour, although nothing wrong with that if that’s your preference. Oh no. I’m more of the “shut up shop for a year or so” mindset, and off we go! Nothing simple.
Dream Boards: It is Good to Edit One’s Life.
In order to keep the dreams alive and keep my focus on the direction that I am heading, I create a Dream Board. A Dream Board is a magnificent list of pictures, a visual of what it is that you are aiming towards. I came across Dream Boards a long time ago, through a man called John Assaraf. You may recognise his name as one of the speakers from the book and DVD called, The Secret.
Well, I am now onto my 10th dream board. It can take any form that is most comfortable for you. I use it as a visual checklist and also as a way of keeping the dream alive, if you wish.
Whilst we are dreaming of goals in the future, it is also important to appreciate life in the present. My dream boards represent short term goals as well as my longer term targets.
Creating Your Dream Board
I begin by looking through a selection of magazines. It is fabulous to take the time for yourself and prepare a warm drink of tea or a cool glass of wine as you are flipping through glossy pictures. Cutting out the pictures that symbolize what it is that I am aiming for, I create a collage of my dreams and goals by gluing the pictures onto a large sheet of cardstock or poster board. You can be glamorous and opulent or simple and to the point. It is your board and they are your dreams. Think big!
There are many websites that can help you with this process, if that is your preference. Dreamitalive.com is one that I have used in the past. Also, I particularly like the kit by John Assaraf himself. It comes with a book that I like to make notes in, a DVD and a ton of advice on using the power of intention and visualising to reach your goals. I frequently listen to the DVD when I’m in the car, just another method to keep myself focused and work through the steps that it takes to get me to my goals. You can find the kit by clicking on the picture.
My 2017 Dream Board
The completed board becomes a tangible tool that is hung where I can see it everyday. In my case, my board, as you can see below, hangs in my bedroom right where I can see it upon waking first thing and just before I close my eyes at night. I also took a photo of it and I use it as my screen saver on my phone. Thus, it is there, very visible and absolutely present, at the forefront of my mind on a daily basis. Gradually, I put little check marks beside the pictures as I accomplish and meet each target. It is remarkable, when the mind is focused on something, how easy it seems to manifest. I truly appreciate my life as it is today, knowing that I have deliberately created it, whilst still shooting for goals and dreams for tomorrow.
As Helen Keller said, ” Life is a great adventure, or nothing at all.”
All the best to you in 2017 and dream on.
I am a huge fan of inquiry based teaching and learning. After all, I am a die-hard IB PYP teacher. Anything that promotes thinking in an engaged manner and reinforces understanding excites me! Concept based learning looks at a given subject through the lens of concepts or “big ideas” and encourages the children to think about those big ideas rather than having a subject stuffed into a small box. It enables more connections to be made and, in my opinion, creates a more authentic learning experience where all subjects and skills can be utilised. Lets begin with The Concept Map!
The Concept Map-The idea of using background knowledge with inquiry and directing thinking strategies to create understanding in science.
Rather than “giving” students the answers, this form of making thinking visible develops the habit of inquiring in order to find the answers, using thinking strategies such as inferring, questioning, background knowledge and collaborative thinking, when they have to find the answers to their questions. Not to mention, making their learning rigorous and authentic. It is a good idea to model these maps prior. I have used a stand up game called ” Associations” to practise the skill.
Association- an Interactive Game
This involves about 5 or 6 children standing in front of the classroom. One child from the audience has to give the group a starting word such as ” Fish”. The first person standing up in the line will say aloud, ” Fish”. The next person in the line has to immediately think of a word that they associate with fish and say it aloud. And so on along the line. For example: Fish, ocean, shark, danger, drowning, safety, swimming etc. The group continues as far as they can. If one person pauses too long then they are eliminated and must sit down. I usually leave it til there are 2 children left standing. Those 2 remain standing and another 3 or 4 kids are selected to participate. It can also be timed, with a time limit set.
An Example: The Pre-Knowledge Activity
Our key concept was CONNECTION.
I gave the children six commonly known words related to the circulatory system and asked them to work together to show how the words connect. Each line connecting two words had to have a written association or connection. This was done in small groups, which for this vocabulary activity was arranged in ability groups. You can of course implement this with mixed ability groups too. For example: the word CIRCULATION and HEART was connected with a line and 2 words were written on the line showing how the children connected the two words. One group wrote, ” blood” and ” moving in a circle”along their line linking the words. As I chatted with them, they explained to me their thinking. You can see how they children used their knowledge of the heart having something to do with blood and their decomposition of the word circulation. They saw that part of the word looked like CIRCLE and thus they inferred that the word must mean moving in a circle and “perhaps it meant that the blood was moving around the body in a circle”!! Not to far from the facts, right? 🙂
The Post- Knowledge Reflection: Showing How Their Thinking Has Evolved.
After several lessons and experiment activities around the circulatory system, the children had to add six additional, more complex words to their original concept maps. These had to be shown in a different coloured marker so that the ” before” and ” after” knowledge could be seen clearly. As they reflected on their prior knowledge, there were several corrections made, facts added and giggles stifled, as the kids noticed how much their knowledge of the subject had increased. Effective learning that can be used with any concept!
Many more ideas where the children can show their thinking tangibly can be found in the marvellous book, ” Making Thinking Visible” by Ron Ritchart. You can clink this link and find it on Amazon. Hope you can find some use with concept maps. Feel free to let me know how it goes.
Just last week my daughter asked me what my New Year’s resolution would be. Before answering, I cynically thought about how I’ll swear to exercise more, eat less and lose the same 10 lbs I’ve been losing and gaining for the past ten years. I chickened out in my response, ” I haven’t really thought about it yet.” But really, isn’t it good to reflect upon where we are and set goals for where we would like to be? I mean we do it in the classroom very frequently.
Every six weeks we reflect upon our learning within the IB Primary Years Programme. We focus on the Learner Profile trait of being reflective and look back at the central idea and how our understanding has change. We think upon the key concepts covered and contemplate our learning through those concepts. And, of course, the transdisciplinary skills are contemplated and we consider which skills we have improved with and those which still require work. That’s a lot of reflection for our kiddos and the danger I have found is that it can become monotonous, routine and therefore not really meaningful for the kids. Just the same old, same old on the same old piece of paper stuffed into our portfolios until the following six weeks.
Making Reflection Meaningful and Differentiated
With the thought of differentiation looming large ( as our school wide focus), I thought about the rigmarole of reflecting and how it was seriously lacking authenticity. So, in order to help my kiddos who struggled with writing, I created a selection of easy to complete and fun to think about reflection sheets. These began with the simple task of creating a cartoon to show their learning. This was received with far more enthusiasm than the usual reflection sheets. And, some of the more able kids even wanted to use them. Thus the Goal Setting and Reflection packet was born. I went home and thought about how I wanted the kids to be able to choose their own reflection format. It is after all a very personal moment when we are asked to reflect. I wanted to ensure that the important details were considered ( concepts, central idea, profile, skills, attitudes) and then scaffolded the sheets accordingly to suit the different needs within my classroom.
What is Refection?
My fifth graders and I spent some time prior to the end of unit, thinking about what it really means to reflect.
We used the idea of concept maps to look back at the new knowledge that we had gained over the course of the unit of inquiry.
We studied our inquiry bank and wrote down questions that arose from our original questions.
We flipped through our working binders and notebooks and highlighted the learning that showed we had used certain transdisciplinary skills and Learner Profile traits, making notes by those highlighted pages.
We then went back to the central idea and, in our small groups, we broke it down to fit in with the concepts we had studied and wrote a group statement as to what it NOW meant to us and our knowledge now.
After all of that ( which took us about a week), I introduced the new planners for our unit reflection, I selected 3-4 different formats and then allowed the students to pick their
own sheet for reflecting
The children were told to spend at least ten minutes remembering what we discussed about the skill of reflecting and to take the full 40 minutes given, to complete their unit reflection. You could have heard a pin drop! The entire class was engaged in flipping through past notes and activities, silently thinking about their learning and creating a meaningful and authentic piece of work that truly showed their thinking and perspective of their own learning. Voila! Success!
Mindfulness. It seems to be another of those words that is making the rounds lately. Mindfulness. To me there are so many takes on the word and I feel that it is one of those trends that we do within the IB PYP anyway. I was curious as to how the children perceived this word and so, I asked.
The responses were eye-opening really. Thankfully, many of the kids referred to the IB Attitudes, since we are constantly using this language and philosophy in school. It surrounds them.
An Attitude of Appreciation.
A plan of action was to become aware of what we were thankful for amongst each other. We began to notice how we could help one another with random acts of kindness that really were small and otherwise unnoticed. Simple thing such as complimenting one another, passing an eraser, smiling across the room. This was facilitated with Compliment Coupons. The children really learned to recognize the goodness that was all around them .
Quiet Time: Intentional thinking outdoors
Learning to be present in the moment is a constant challenge in this fast paced life. Teaching the children to literally stop and smell the roses allows them to see that this pause can really help with stress release and relaxation. We tried a few different techniques, simple to implement. Things that I PRACTISE myself, Finally, practising what I preach .
Breathing in for 8 seconds and out is said to release stress immediately.
We took a minute of silence to be in the moment and listen to everything around us. Intentional thinking is how I describe to my kids. Being in the moment.
Lying back on the grass and looking at the shapes of the clouds changing, What do you see?
Bringing the classroom outside as often as is possible: reading quietly, math outdoors, community walk
IB teachers smoothly incorporate the unit of inquiry around all of the curricular areas. At least that’s the plan. More often than not, I’m running with my hair on fire, going with the moment and thinking on my feet! Ah well. It’s not unusual for my planner to look like a map of the London Underground!
Who We Are: Personal narratives & hero atributes
The IBO centers inquiry based learning around the traits of a learner; namely the Learner Profile. Those traits are further developed with repetitious use of the TRANS DISCIPLINARY SKILLS. I have a fun set of posters for big kids and little kids that lists and explains the skills. You can link to the big kids here and the little kids here. I am constantly referring to the posters as we use the skills. This develops an awareness in the kids of what it is they are doing and gives purpose to their activities.
With five skills: THINKING,RESEARCH, SELF MANAGEMENT,COMMUNICATION and SOCIAL.
It is THOSE skills that we transfer across the disciplines for authentic learning. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, life is not broken up into separate disciplines. So why do it in the classroom?
Problem-solving for Planning Math?
Where We Are in Place & Time: Exploring angles & pyramid like the ancients
When I’m planning my units, I usually begin with the summative assessment in mind and go backwards from there. I learned to plan across the curriculum a million years ago as a student teacher in Scotland and I still do it today. ( yup, I’ve been around quite a few playgrounds.) My planner looks like a dartboard with the summative as the bulls eye and my concepts running through it.
How We Organise Ourselves- Structure of a story
Math can be a finicky problem for me. And, for the sake of my sanity and the kids learning, I’ve had to just go with the fact that sometimes it’s just not going to flow nicely. Trying to tie in some of those fundamental skills such as order of operations into ocean life can be tricky. I admit to being creative but even that one pushes my creativity to the limits. Thus my skills of thinking and research are practiced! 😉
Not to be completely beaten however, I will throw in the fabulous catch all- DATA ANALYSIS, A.K.A. Graphing! haha! Seriously though, if you step back and look at real life within the unit, I find that this helps me to find the math. Here are a few suggestions:
Science-measure, data, probability, area, elapsed time, shape problem solving, volume, time, speed, distance, decimals, fractions, construction ( angles, lines, rays etc)
Social studies– data analysis, surveys, measure, time, angles, lines, rays, mapping, money, decimals, fractions
Literacy– frequency, mean, median, mode, data analysis, surveys, time, rhythm, problem-solving with all operations, volume, area, perimeter, fractions
Life is A Salad.
But in all seriousness, teaching authentically has to be done inclusive of ALL of the disciplines. Life and learning is all smooshed together with reading, writing, counting, synthesizing, researching. ….and so on. It comes together like one great big salad and so, teaching the children to learn this way can only be valuable. Not to mention in preparation for the trendy phrases, ” College and career readiness.” !!
Who We Are: Researching Revolutionaries: This was sensitively researched with an open mind as the children learned how revolutions can be both destructive as well as progressive. Remember the 6 million!
My complete units of inquiry, found here in my store, are my attempt to make it easier for others to pull together the disciplines and to teach in a trans-disciplinary fashion. Each IB theme is now available and despite being planned for 3rd-5th, there are many that can be adapted for 2nd and even older than 5th. They cover reading, writing, math, science, social studies and the arts in some form or another. I am ALWAYS open to hearing your own expertise and to incorporating it into these planners so that they can improve. I love hearing from my fellow PYP teachers around the world ( Italy and Singapore, to name a few, thanks ladies), with suggestions that can be used to update the activities and improve the learning for our kiddos worldwide. I’ll keep creating at this end, if you can keep giving me the feedback at your end. Meanwhile, keep calm and keep on teaching transdisciplinary!
It is no great news that children are created in a myriad of different ways and the way they synthesise things is as varied. We have the listeners, the visual learners, the kinesthetic and the cognitive to throw out a few of the technical terms. Our challenge is not only to cater to all of those varying forms of learning but also to be aware of who our different learners are within our classroom. By making thinking visible, it helps us, as their educators, to see exactly what is going on ( or not going on in some cases) as each child is learning and to facilitate their learning further. Also, for a child to be able to show their thinking and explain how they came up with a solution, is a big confidence booster! :
The book that I’m about to plug is aptly entitled, “Making Thinking Visible”. It was given to me by one of my head teachers about 6 years ago. Since then, we have actually done a staff PD using the book to help us. The strategies are priceless, in my opinion, and utterly tied in with inquiry based thinking and learning. Many of them you will recognize as they have been around for a while and some may be new. All, in my opinion, are valuable and touch on all forms of learning. You can find the book on Amazon by clicking the link below.
Perspective: Tug O’ War
The Tug O’ War is an amazing provocation and converstation starter and will certainly get the children thinking about the key concept of perspective. Using pictures or text and a question to ponder, the children will write their opinion to the question on a sticky note and post it on a continuum of yes at one end and no at the other end. This can be done anonymously or not. I have used the technique along the lines of a gallery walk, with my 5th graders, where they look at the other answers and note their thinking. We then come together as a whole class to discuss the different perspectives. It is perfectly okay for the children to change their thinking with an explanation and to move their sticky note.
There doesn’t have to be a final outcome. I have found however, when used at the beginning of a unit of inquiry, that often some kids will change their minds as we progress with our learning and inquiries.
Connection: Interactive Organisers
Making connections is a thinking skill that goes on all the time within all subject areas. By using large graphic organisers, the children are able to work together cooperatively, sharing and building upon their thinking. They have to use a ton of discussion as they work to place their thoughts. The concept maps that I often use within our inquiries are a great way to SEE how the children are making connections between the key concepts and their vocabulary or math skills or whatever you may be working on. You can check out concept maps here from a previous post.
Reflection: The picture below shows a formative assessment that I did towards the end of our unit of inquiry. But of course this can be done with any curricular area. I’m planning on trying it with our math unit of fractions too.
The children became REFLECTIVE, using the Learner Profile trait and they began by discussing within their table groups the things that they feel they learned from the unit. Each group then took the time to write their learning on the chart paper. Showing their learning and making their thinking visible allowed the children to share what they know, which is always a plus. It was also a great evaluation of my own where i could see who knew what, and perhaps which lines of inquiry I needed to develop further. Finally, when we came to our final reflection of our unit, the information on this chart was priceless for the children to look upon and recall all of the learning. ( You can find a myriad of reflection sheets in my store. You have the option of print and go or editable packets.)
There is an earlier post all about REFLECTION if you’re interested. You can link to it here.
Meanwhile, I am continuing to try to make the kids thinking visible all in the pursuit of constant and never ending improvement- for them and mostly for me.