Spotlight Post by Pam Moeai, Educational Technology Team Leader
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Stephanie Gonzalez, a 5th grade teacher at Academy Park Elementary, to hear more about her successful implementation of Student-Led Conferences for the September 2019 SEPs.
Stephanie, along with the other teachers at Academy Park, is a participant in the DTL Grant (Digital Teaching and Learning) for Granite School District, in which principals and teachers focus on the aspects of personalized learning and make a conscientious effort to include structures and strategies necessary to implement the core procedures needed for a successful learning environment. Stephanie was excited to utilize two components of Personalized Learning: Student Choice and Student Voice as she prepared for the Student-Led Conferences.
So what exactly are Student-Led Conferences? They are parent-teacher conferences in which the child is not only present, but in charge of explaining his or her progress, reflecting on accomplishments, and setting short and long-term goals. To record/show growth, Stephanie’s students created portfolios that they shared with their parents during their scheduled SEP time. With the students in charge of the evening, Stephanie became more of a facilitator, and was able to roam through the classroom while observing academic conversations from four different families as they visited with their students about individual goals and achievements. The student portfolios are a work in progress, a living artifact of student success.
Here is Stephanie pictured with a few of her students’ portfolios. She was concerned that the students would freeze up and not know what to tell their parents once the conference began, so she engaged the students in completing an “Avatar Project” which turned out to be the ice-breaker for the evening. These avatars were made by the students using an online website, Avatar Maker, to mimic their facial features. The students also used a website called Vocaroo to record their thoughts, expectations and goals for the year. The recording was then turned into a QR code and placed on their avatar for parents to access and listen to using a Smart Phone. Also included in the portfolios were reading data, results and reflections of CFAs, creative writing artifacts, and lessons and activities from science. Always reflective, Stephanie has a goal to change things up by digitizing all of the student data using Google Sheets for a more permanent and easy to access format.
According to Stephanie, the best part of doing Student-Led Conferences was the excitement she witnessed in her students’ eyes. They were proud of their work and couldn’t wait to share it with their family members. And what was the reaction from the parents, you may ask? Many parents were heard saying, “My kid did all of this?”
As we all know, SEP attendance can be somewhat on the dismal side of things, but for Stephanie’s class, 100% of her students attended conferences with at least one of their parents. Adding to this feat, was a situation with one of Stephanie’s students. This boy was very upset because his mother told him she would be unable to attend his scheduled conference because she was ill. Stephanie was happy to make arrangements for a different day and time, but the student wouldn’t hear of it. As he left school that day, he confidently told his teacher that his mom WOULD be coming tonight! And…she did.
When asked if there was anything she would do differently, Stephanie said that she wanted to be more reflective and conscientious of what artifacts to share…giving students more opportunities to “Show What They Know” and celebrate more of what they have or will soon accomplish. She felt this first time around, students only shared a minimal amount of work, and they wanted to share more.
According to Sam Mitchell, Academy Park’s School Technology Specialist (STS), when asked about teachers who think outside the box, she related that “Stephanie is a fantastic teacher who is working very hard to build a classroom where every student can be successful. Her classroom is inviting and student centered, and has a strong growth mindset theme. She gives her students choice, and she has developed a strong rapport with all of her students. With all of these pieces in place, she has been able to build an effective environment for personalized learning using Chromebooks as a helpful piece to the process. She is always willing to push outside of her comfort zone and experiment with new tools or ideas. I can’t wait to see everything she does with her students this year!”
A big thank you to Stephanie Gonzalez for letting me come and explore what tips and tricks she used in getting this whole Student-Led Conferencing plan to come to fruition. I hope what we have shared with you will give you just enough courage to try something different when the Spring SEPs roll around. But, if we haven’t made you a fan of Student-Led Conferences yet, here are a few more reasons to help convince you. Student-Led Conferences…
- demonstrate that the experiences and opinions of parents and students are valued,
- allow the student to be actively engaged and in charge of their learning goals,
- allow the student to reflect on his/her progress in their own words,
- drive students to accept that they are accountable for their academic choices
- provide time for the child and parent to interact academically and support one another,
- provide a venue for the students to show their work and be proud of their accomplishments, while also noting ways that improvement can be made,
- most importantly…parents and students love having conferences using this platform. Parent and student attendance at Student-Led Conferences is often higher than traditional conferences because students are an integral part of the process.