Tonight I am sitting in my classroom waiting for the next set of parents to show up for parent-teacher conferences. I used to dread these meetings and the me-versus-them battles that so easily ensued. Not anymore.
For several years now I have taught my students how to keep portfolios and have allowed them to lead in the conference. In addition to reducing teacher stress and eliminating surprises for parents, this method allows students to take ownership of what is going on in their learning process. Here's how it works.
Whenever students collect their graded work from the returned-work boxes in the classroom they look it over for errors. If the assignment does not need to be redone, they place it in their portfolios behind a tab marked for that subject. These portfolios stay in class unless a student wants to take his or hers home for one evening and promises to return it the following day. (Because I post grades electronically parents already have full access to see what grades their children are receiving on all of their assignments.)
At midterm time I have students print out their progress reports from their online accounts and place them in their portfolios. They take these home along with a Review Sheet that guides parents through questions they can ask as they look over the work with their children. Parents must sign and return this sheet with the portfolios within one week.
No surprises! That's my motto. Keep them informed.
Just before the end of the quarter, I have students print another report and attach it to their portfolios with a note that reminds parents of the deadline for late work.
The day before conferences I give students a chance to look over their final reports from the end of the quarter and have them fill out Final Portfolio Review sheets in class.
Once conference night arrives, the parents, student and I sit down together to look over the report card. I then let the student lead, prompting him or her with questions from the Final Portfolio Review sheet. The parents and I listen to what the student is experiencing in class and what needs he or she may have. This enables students to take ownership of what is going on in their learning process. It also gives parents a real sense that as a teacher I care and have evaluated their child's progress correctly.
Using this method, parent-teacher conferences are no longer something to dread, but a pleasant experience where parents and I get to learn more about their children and what helps them to succeed.