The end of the school year that is! This time of year is always a flurry of activity, with state testing and spring conferences all falling practically on top of one another. Add that to the stress of keeping all your ducklings in a row as the weather gets warm, and it is quite a task!
One way I have kept my learners engaged and motivated is by utilizing student-led conferences for the end of the year.
Here are a few tips and tricks for making student-led conferences successful that I've learned along the way.
What you'll find on this page:
Simple tips for making student-led conferences work for you
1. Consider if technology is the right choice.
For years my students have taken on the all-consuming task of creating a PowerPoint presentation to share with their families. Of course, this requires access to computers for weeks on end across multiple days, and there is always a cadre of slow workers that stress me out until the very last minute.
Usually, at some point, the slowest end up dictating their thoughts to me as we wrestle with the other teachers over the precious laptop cart. If you are sharing computers, as we did in my grade level, you may have to consider alternatives.
2. Make a template to guide your student-led conferences.
If you do decide to use computers to create your presentations, be sure to create a template in advance. My school uses Google Drive, and I love making my template in there and having the students make a copy and share it with me so I can keep track of their progress from anywhere.
I liked to build in mini-lessons that corresponded with my media literacy standards to help break up the information and encourage them to go with a professional look.
Having them shared on Google Drive made it really easy for me to check the projects to determine the next mini-lesson topic.
3. Look at non-digital alternatives.
A mini-book is another great way to share information with parents during the student-led conference and it makes for a great keepsake. I get to cover the exact same topics as I did in my old PowerPoint template, but I don't have to fight with my colleagues over the computers and I also am free from the worries about my slow typists getting it done in time.
One trick I've used for my mini-books is to hook plastic bags to a bulletin board so that each student can put in the pages as they finish them. This keeps them looking neat because they only take the page they are working on, and it never gets lost in their desk. I can quickly grab and staple when they are finished!
You can get a copy of my year-end conference mini-book here. It's about 17 pages and full of great reflections about the school year.
4. Practice, Practice, Practice.
I always start our practice time by talking about what a good presentation looks like.
I model a poor presentation and have students identify my mistakes (like talking to my friends, mumbling, reading directly from the presentation, and not looking at the audience).
I then repeat the exact same presentation in a well-done professional way. The students talk about which they'd rather listen to.
Next, I partner them up to practice giving their own presentations and critiquing one another. We slowly work our way from presenting to one person to presenting to a small group over the course of about a week leading up to conferences.
I am always so impressed listening to them when they are presenting to their parents.
5. Schedule it out.
I schedule my student-led conferences open-house style on the last Monday before school ends. By then I have had the chance to really conference with all my families that need one-on-one meetings, and this is a chance to celebrate the hard work.
We usually schedule at 9:00 AM because the kids spend the first hour of the day setting up and doing one last practice round.
6. Create personalized invitations.
I give my students about 20 minutes to design an invitation about three weeks before the conference.
We talk about the invitation as a genre of writing and what information needs to be included. The kids get to design their own and take it home. This gives parents plenty of time to plan.
7. Bring treats to keep the atmosphere light.
I always bring donut holes, coffee, and juice boxes. I set up a snack table near the front and teach my students to take their parents to get a snack when they are done presenting.
The parents love to look through the journals or take another classroom tour with their children while they enjoy a snack.
8. Write a note to each student as a personal touch.
After they finish up, I add my secret page and bind the booklets.
On the back page, I write each student a personalized note about why I enjoyed having them in class and how I am proud of their growth. I wish them a happy summer and a great year in the next grade.
The kids see these for the first time at the conferences (or in the practice sessions before).
9. Give options to those who cannot attend.
One thing I love about this system is that by the time the big day arrives the students are ready to rock their presentations. I get to spend my time going around singing their child's praises and solving any technical or other issues.
The kids own all the work!
The other bonus of this system is if a parent cannot come to school, their child can still share at home!
They have done all the practice and are well-versed to give the same presentation with mom and dad on the couch. Some of my shy kiddos prefer that way…as do many of my dual working parents.
The end-of-year conference is always a highlight. I get groups ranging from just one parent to mom, dad, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and the neighbors!
10. Spend some time on clean up before the big day.
This is the perfect opportunity to clean house a bit. I start sending items home after these conferences.
While I might pull a few pieces of writing to put in their folder for the next grade, I use this as my chance to send home the portfolios and other work samples I've collected. This makes one less thing they have to drag home in their 50-pound backpacks on the last day of school. I also use this as an opportunity to clean out desks.
No, we don't take our materials home, but we do throw away that old snack wrapper and all those tiny broken pencils in order to make our presentation area neat and clean because let me tell you, parents check!
Get started with Student-Led Conferences
And that's it! Easy spring conferences at an otherwise crazy time of year 🙂
So now you know how I do it, how do you run your end-of-year conferences?