Conferring with Parents (Part 2)
Here are some suggestions from Choice Literacy Contributors about the best ways to have high quality parent conferences, with everything from pre-conference connections to electronic adaptations. This is the second installment in a two-part series. To read the first installment, click here.
Andrea Smith, 4th Grade Teacher and Choice Literacy Contributor:
A week before conferences, my families receive an email or letter from me with a conference reminder (date and time) and several pre-conference questions to think and talk about with their child. To support this conversation, I include three or more photos of their child at work in reading workshop, writing workshop, math workshop, or content studies. I find that when parents have photos of their child "in action" as a learner, they find it easier to talk to their child about the classroom environment and what kids do during workshop. Families have an opportunity to learn about their child's attitude toward reading, writing, or math.
During the conference, the photos are a great ice-breaker. The happy elements of the pictures launches a positive conference, allowing a teacher to use the photos to support the strengths a child brings to the classroom. With a positive foundation in place, participants can discuss challenges and goals for the school year. The photos establish a student-centered classroom and focus the attention on teaching and learning for that child.
Katie Doherty, 6th Grade Teacher and Choice Literacy Contributor:
Conferences are most meaningful when the child plays the starring role. It's not about me or the parents; it's about each individual child. Whether my students are doing a brilliant job in every single class, or they are so far behind they are being smothered by piles of missing assignments, I want my students to feel like they are in control. Because in reality, they are. This is middle school; no one can make them do what they need to do. No one that is, except themselves.
To encourage students to take the lead in conferences, I have developed a brief reflection sheet. The purpose of this is to allow students to dwell in the successes and struggles they've encountered thus far in the school year, and to develop a proactive plan to either keep up the good work or to work toward a more successful academic path. When students are given the reins and they realize they are in control, I find they are more willing to head down a successful path. And for those students who are already sprinting toward success, this is way for them to be recognized for all the hard work and dedication that they have put forth. These are the questions I use to prompt their reflection:
1.Describe the BEST part of middle school so far. Why it is the best?
2. Thinking about language arts and social studies, what accomplishments are you the most proud of this year? Why?
3. Thinking about math and science. What accomplishments are you the most proud of this year? Why?
4. In what areas of your education would you like to improve in throughout the school year?
5. What other aspect of school are you really proud of? Why?
6. What are some strategies you could use to help you make those improvements?
7. Write a GOAL or two for 2nd quarter and the rest of the school year.
I had a student teacher sit through conferences with me once. His comment was that it seemed like a big love fest and he wanted to see me handle a difficult parent. I thought about this - how is it that I avoid difficult conferences? The truth is I have them all the time. It's important NOT to wait to contact a parent regarding difficulties -- of any sort -- until conferences. Conferences should not be a surprise party of bad news. My most difficult conversations have already taken place via phone, email, and/or previous meetings. Usually, by this time, the conference is following up things that are in place: what's working and what's not. Parents are anxious when their child isn't doing well. They need to know that the teacher has a plan. It's okay if the plan needs adjusting along the way, as long as the parent is confident that the teacher is helping the child.
I had a situation with my step-daughter's teacher where she said only glowing things about my daughter. I loved that, yet, my daughter was bringing home poor grades. The teacher kept saying things were going fine. It was frustrating, because it was obvious things weren't fine and the teacher had no intention of doing anything about it. That wasn't okay.
Karen Terlecky, 5th Grade Teacher and Coauthor of the Literate Lives Blog:
For the past several years, I have prepared for fall conferences in the same way. I have adapted the language arts assessment form found in Karen Szymusiak and Franki Sibberson's book Day-to-Day Assessment to fit my needs, and this becomes the conference form I share with parents. I focus on the areas of information gathered from the Developmental Reading Assessment, Developmental Spelling inventory, assessment of high frequency words, notes gathered from reading and writing conferring and observations, and reading/writing stamina exhibited by the students.
This year, transferring data I had collected to this adapted form went more smoothly than any other year. I have to credit that to the fact that I have switched to keeping my anecdotal notes about each student in an online app called Evernote. I have organized the app so each student has an online notebook with several different pages in each: a word study page, a page for notes from conferring and observations in reading workshop, a page for notes from conferring in writing workshop, a status of the class page, and a page where I gather information from some beginning of the year formative reading assessments required by my district. When it came time to get ready for conferences, I merely copied and pasted the info I had already inputted into Evernote into the conference form.
I have collected much rich, meaningful information about each of my students as readers, writers, and word study learners, and I loved how easily I could share this with parents this year.