ERIC Identifier: ED407171
Publication Date: 1997-05-00
Author: Hackmann, Donald G.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Champaign IL.
Student-Led Conferences at the Middle Level. ERIC Digest.
The time-honored parent-teacher conference format has traditionally excluded
the student from the process. This model does little to facilitate dialogue
between parent and child or to recognize the need for students to assume greater
control of their academic progress. Fortunately, student-led conferences are
emerging as a positive alternative to the traditional middle level
Middle level faculties have developed
student-led conferences to achieve one or more of the following goals:
* to encourage students to accept personal responsibility for their academic
* to teach students the process of self-evaluation;
* to facilitate the development of students' organizational and oral
communication skills and to increase their self-confidence;
* to encourage students, parents, and teachers to engage in open and honest
* to increase parent attendance at conferences (Guyton & Fielstein, 1989;
Hackmann, 1996; Hackmann, Kenworthy, & Nibbelink, 1995; Little & Allan,
Faculties using this model frequently report that, as a result of involvement
in student-led conferences, parent and teacher bonds are strengthened. Both
teacher and parent are more likely to initiate subsequent contacts throughout
the remainder of the school year (Hackmann, 1996).
STUDENT-LED CONFERENCE MODEL
Although the format and
content of student-led conferences may vary from school to school, the concept
remains the same: the student is in charge of the academic conference with the
parents. The teacher simply serves as a discussion facilitator when needed. This
increased accountability moves the student from passive--and frequently
second-hand--recipient of information shared between teacher and parent, to
active participant in a three-way interaction among parent, teacher, and
student. Students assume "equal partner" status in discussions concerning their
The student-led process typically is conceptualized as three distinct phases:
preparation, the actual conference, and an evaluation component (Countryman
& Schroeder, 1996; Little & Allan, 1989).
PREPARATION. Since the student-led model differs dramatically from the
traditional parent-teacher conference, it cannot be assumed that middle level
students will possess the self-confidence, organizational skills, and
communication skills necessary to lead a successful conference. Therefore,
teachers must adequately prepare students and provide them with an appropriate
conference structure. In the weeks prior to the conference, teachers instruct
students on how to lead the conference, assist them with collecting and
preparing information to be shared with parents, and describe how to explain and
interpret any information to be shared. Students learn that excuses are not
acceptable and understand that they must be able to present artifacts to their
parents that depict their progress. Students who become actively involved may be
motivated to improve their academic performance.
The student-led conference is designed to be a positive experience for the
student. Therefore, students must be allowed sufficient time to prepare their
conference folders and scripts. Practice is also important. Teachers should
permit students to role-play various conference scenarios with student partners
(Guyton & Fielstein, 1989) and should provide feedback to assist students in
improving their presentations. Students gain confidence as they practice, and
they also learn to anticipate questions that may be asked by their parents.
Prior to conference day, parents should be notified of the new conferencing
format, and it should be clearly explained that the student will be in charge
and the teacher will serve as a facilitator. Parents should be encouraged to
support their child and could also be provided with a list of sample questions
they may wish to ask their child during the conference (Hackmann, 1996).
THE CONFERENCE. Since the student is in charge of the conference and is now
adequately prepared to assume this responsibility, some school faculties
question whether the teacher should be physically present at the actual
conference or simply be available if needed. Schools have taken different
approaches to this question. Some decide the teacher will indeed be present for
the entire conference but will intervene only when necessary (Countryman &
Schroeder, 1996; Hackmann et al., 1995). Other schools schedule three to four
conferences in the teacher's room simultaneously, with the teacher moving freely
from family to family and spending only a few minutes with each group (Guyton
& Fielstein, 1989; Little & Allan, 1989).
Discussion of academic grades is typically the primary focus of the
student-led conference, but grades should not be the only focus. With increased
numbers of schools now using student portfolios, the student-led format also
provides an excellent opportunity for students to share the contents of their
portfolios and to explain why each artifact was selected for inclusion.
Additionally, the conference agenda may include discussion of artifacts that
help explain grades (such as test and homework scores, homework assignments and
student projects, and records of class attendance, class participation, and the
number and types of missing assignments) and discussion of self-selected
academic and social goals for the upcoming term. It is important to include both
cognitive and affective components in the discussion, but the affective elements
should not overshadow the focus on the child's academic progress.
The conferencing format should be envisioned as a process, rather than as an
event. Parents and students should be discouraged from becoming fixated on past
unsatisfactory performance and should be prompted to engage in mutual
problem-solving. The teacher can assist families with the development of a plan
of action that recognizes the student's accountability for academic progress
while permitting parents to support the child in appropriate ways (Hackmann,
Kenworthy, & Nibbelink, in press).
Since student-led conferences will in all likelihood include more content
than a traditional parent-teacher conference, teachers find that conferences
require more time. For example, Countryman and Schroeder's (1996) initial
experience with student-led conferencing quickly led to the conclusion that
their usual 15-minute timeframe was insufficient. Many schools recommend 20 or
30 minutes to allow for more substantive discussions (Guyton & Fielstein,
1989; Hackmann, 1996).
EVALUATION. Either immediately following the conferences or shortly
thereafter, students, parents, and teachers should be given an opportunity to
provide their feedback concerning the effectiveness of the student-led format.
This feedback is essential so that teachers can continue to fine-tune the
conference model and can be responsive to the expressed needs of students and
Schools employing this model note that parent attendance at conferences has
increased (Hackmann, 1996) and assert that over 90% of parents and students
prefer the student-led conference (Hackmann et al., in press). Students report
increased self-confidence and personal satisfaction with being directly involved
in the conferences. Parents begin to recognize their children's ability to
assume increasing levels of responsibility and appreciate the opportunity to
strengthen the lines of communication with their children. Citing a more
positive and relaxed conferencing atmosphere, teachers report a reduced
conference preparation workload and diminished levels of teacher stress during
conferences (Hackmann et al., in press).
TRADITIONAL PARENT-TEACHER CONFERENCE OPTIONS
majority of parents and students may recognize the benefits of student-led
conferences, some parents may prefer a traditional parent-teacher conference,
and others may simply desire a few minutes with the teacher to address some
unresolved questions. Middle school faculties can address these parental
concerns in the following ways:
* Allow parents the option of selecting either a student-led conference or a
traditional parent-teacher conference;
* Reserve five minutes at the end of the student-led conference for a private
conversation between parent and teacher; or
* Permit the parent to schedule a follow-up conference with the teacher,
either during scheduled conference times or at a later date.
THE ABSENT PARENT
Occasionally, in spite of the best
efforts of both student and teacher, a parent is unable to attend the scheduled
conference. With the traditional parent-teacher conference, the teacher may
never have an opportunity to meet with the parent. However, the student-led
conferencing model does not require that the meeting between student and parent
occur only at school. The student whose parent cannot attend or chooses not to
attend the scheduled conference can still successfully conduct the conference at
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