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Student led conferences - why?

Original post made by trying to understand, Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 28, 2008

How do the elementary schools in PAUSD handle spring conferences? Are student-led conferences typical? We've suffered through several years of this, and I can't say they're particularly helpful. Charming? Yes. Helpful in learning about where our kids are at academically? No. A conference led by a 5-8 year old is close to useless.

Why don't they have parent-teacher conferences to wrap up the school year?

Comments (4)

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Posted by pa mom
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 28, 2008 at 5:27 pm

Our school has been phasing out the spring teacher conferences for several years now. I remember my child's 1st grade teacher, upon my inquiry, stating that the spring conferences are optional and she in fact didn't do them.

What was enlightening to me about this year's student led conference was my child's self evaluation, which surprised me. That I found rather enlightening.

Basically, I just have to assume if there are issues I need to address over the summer, the teacher will tell me. Am I comfortable with this assumption? Not really. I should mention, however, we do have an option this year to request a teacher-let conference.

Anyone out there know why the Fall conference the only teacher-led conference these days? Seems to me the Spring conference would tell parents more about readiness for the following grade.

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Posted by PV Parent
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Apr 28, 2008 at 9:49 pm

Our school has student led conferences unless the teacher or the parent requests a more formal conference because either party feels there is a need. My own child's teacher in fact requested a conference with me, not that there was a major problem, just a couple of things she felt we needed to get agreement on. In fact, our teachers are ready to have a meeting with parents any time the parent feels the need. If you want a teacher conference, just ask the teacher and I am sure that they will arrange to meet with you separately.

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Posted by Not Unhelpful
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2008 at 10:22 am

I have found student-led conferences to be helpful, though I will admit that in the very young grades the conversation was less illuminating than in upper elementary and beyond. After first grade, both my child and I grew into them.

As a parent in these conferences, I do find that I need to be prepared to ask direct questions about the work and about the student's expectations, comfort level, and what challenges they faced. It is a great opportunity for a student to be reflective about their own academic accomplishments, focussing on the work itself rather than on a grade or other external evaluation of that work. It's a very different conversation than you would have reading a report card together.

As PV Parent stated above, you can always arrange a private conference with the teacher to discuss readiness or any other issues you might have. If you have any concerns at all, I would urge you to set up a meeting.

In middle school, the student attends the fall conference, and I find that appropriate. Middle school teachers are also open to arranging private conversations.

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Posted by Parent of 2
a resident of College Terrace
on May 2, 2008 at 3:49 pm

There can be charm in these conferences, especially if your child is performing normally. I see two values to student-led conferences:

1. Find out how your child is doing. Our first student-led conference with one of our kids was a real eye-opener of the worst kind. We discovered our child had been marking time in the classroom not knowing what the heck was going on around her. She was thrilled that her parents were coming to school and being her audience while she "led" us through a portfolio of her work. She flipped through pages and pages, but she couldn't explain anything. We'd say, "Oh, you were learning the number 3, huh?" Yes. We learned that she didn't have a clue that books are read from left to right, as she waved a pointing stick like a band director any which way on the page (not in the expected word order on a line) while we read the words that she could not begin to read, even though the class had been rehearsing for 3 days. By the time we left, our face muscles ached from the phony smiles of expressing our interest and encouragement. I went home and wrote up a formal request for special education evaluation. (Why hadn't the teacher pushed for that months beforehand? -- Don't ask, I know why: a gag order on teachers initiating special ed.)

2. Valuable skill. For nearly all kids, a student-led conference is a forerunner to a job interview, showing off a portfolio. Or making a presentation to future clients. It's a great way to practice in a comfortable setting talking about your work, what you gained, etc.

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