Tod Johnston

Let Students Drive the Conference

Discussion created by Tod Johnston on Apr 19, 2017
Latest reply on Jun 6, 2017 by Michele Downey

Encourage students to take ownership over their learning by giving them the responsibility for communicating their progress to their families.


In “A New Twist on Family Meetings, Kathy Dyer provides a comprehensive rationale for why both educators and parents should be seriously considering student-led conferences. According to Dyer, letting students drive the conference builds learner agency, giving learners “the power to act.” It encourages learners to reflect on their growth, become a primary partner in constructing their future trajectory, and better understand themselves as learners.


After teaching students to read their MAP results, why not put them in charge of communicating their results to their families during student-led conferences?


As anyone who has put students in charge of conferences knows, the key lies in effusive preparation. Here are some tips for getting upper elementary students ready. Think about how you can modify the list to help prepare younger and older students for student-led conferences.


  • Confer about their MAP results

After administering the MAP assessments, sit down individually with each student to share and discuss their results. More important than individual RIT scores is how the scores have changed over time. Together, use the Learning Continuum to identify future learning goals.


  • Set up a guided reflection

Ask questions to generate reflection about topics you’d like to see shared with families during the conference. What strengths did the MAP results highlight? From their results, what skills should be developed next? What learning activities will help them accomplish their goals?


  • Outline the conference

Provide an outline or even a checklist of topics that students can refer to during the conference. Some students benefit from sentence stems to start the conversation. For example, “I am most proud of…” or “One skill I really want to work on is…”


  • Model the conversation

Show students examples of how the conference will unfold. By acting out a mock conference with a colleague or a student, you can highlight both things to do and not to do during the real event. For example, you can model looking the other conference attendees in the eye and giving thorough details while pointing out what happens if you mumble and rush through explanations. Make sure to debrief with students afterward.


  • Give time to practice

Giving students the opportunity to role play a conference with a trusted learning partner can reduce anxiety and build confidence. Private information, like RIT scores, can be withheld from these practice sessions. Provide questions for the listeners to ask during the conference. You can even provide the same questions to parents during the real conference.


Many educators and parents worry that they can’t have honest conversations about students when they are within earshot. But student-led conferences benefit learners by showing them not simply telling them that they are in charge of their own education. Those truly sensitive discussions between parents and teachers can find another place and time.


Giving students the reins to a conference can be intimidating. What suggestions do you have to help make them a success? Please join in the discussion below.