Students Taking the Lead! Part 2

Watching your students take the lead in their learning is so exciting (& warms a teacher’s heart!!) In the last post, I talked about kids identifying, selecting, and reflecting on their work via Student Portfolios (MUCH different than teacher work folders!!) You can read about them here. What’s next? Using portfolios to inform parents on their child’s progress during Student-Led Conferences!
Each year as I introduce the concept of students being responsible for their own learning and showing their parents how they are doing, some kids are nervous and hesitant, while others are excited and can’t wait! I always prepare parents by explaining the concept of Student-Led Conferences at Back to School Night, as well as sending home a letter before sign-ups.
On a side note, I just want to sing a song of praise for Sign-Up Genius, an online service that has made my life SO much easier!! It allows you to create various kinds of sign ups (supplies needed or field trip drivers or volunteer time slots or parent conferences!). Not only do parents sign up online & you don't have to try and sort slips of paper with requested times, but the best part is that Sign-Up Genius sends out reminders a couple days prior to their conference! No more forgetting when to come! If you have not used it yet, click on the picture below and check it out!
However, it often takes families a bit of an adjustment period; a couple of times I’ve had parents show up without their child! I’ve had them reschedule their conference, (re)explaining the concept and the importance of their child leading. Or a few times after the student has accurately evaluated himself or herself and provided evidence in their portfolio during their conference, I’ve had parents ask for a few minutes to speak privately with me. Inevitably, they ask, “So how is my child REALLY doing?” This always makes me laugh (I refrain from eye-rolling), as I reassure them that their child is doing exactly how he/she said they are doing!

Along with completing their Three Pluses and a Goal form (you can read about that here), students complete a Self-Report Card. I’ve taken my district’s pacing plan for our core subjects: reading, writing, and math, as well as social studies, science, and work habits/social skills and divided them into fall, winter, and spring semesters. These are the benchmarks and standards for each semester. Then together with my grade-level partner, we determined what a 4 (advanced), 3 (proficient/grade-level), 2 (partially proficient), and 1 (not proficient) look like for each subject: what should our students know and be able to demonstrate. (As you can tell, my district uses a 4-point rubric for elementary, rather than letter grades.) Although this initially took us a while, it was invaluable for us teachers to KNOW what a 4, 3, 2, or 1 looked like and to clarify what WE were expecting. We have students highlight what they CAN DO on the self-report card, then they write their own grades with rationale (using the criteria from the self-report card).
At the conference, students share their self-report cards then I share the district report card and we compare grades. Most student and teacher grades are spot on, although some children tend to be harder on themselves; really reading the “fine print” criteria for each grade. Their honesty is amazing! Then they share their Three Pluses and a Goal with their parents. Parents write what they see as their child’s strengths and set ONE goal. (I explain that all parents have many goals for their child, but we want to focus on the ONE specific goal that will help their child in the coming semester. In this way, it is more realistic and attainable.) I always love this part because it’s often the first time parents have verbally acknowledged their child’s strengths directly to him/her. Lots of smiles all around! Lastly, I write the strengths I’ve noticed and set a goal for the student also.

At the end of fall and winter semesters, students re-examine the goals we all set together at the last conference. (They’ve also been posted on the corner of their desk and reminded to reference it throughout the semester.)
Next, they fill out a self-evaluation sheet. Students color in a fraction bar for each goal: how much progress they’ve made towards meeting each goal. They provide evidence in their portfolio (artifacts) to “prove” they’ve worked toward the goals. (Or they fill out very little of their fraction bar, realizing they did NOT work toward the goals. Regardless, it is an excellent point of discussion.)
At our second conference (we have 2 per year), students begin with sharing their self-evaluation and evidence with parents. Next, they review their self-report card and then the next Three Pluses and a Goal. Parents and a teacher write their strengths/growth and a new goal.
Students will often be nervous before leading their first conference. To alleviate their fear, we practice with our cross-age buddies or with partners in class. We practice sharing our Three Pluses and a Goal and practice sharing the evidence in our portfolios. I walk my class through exactly what to expect so the unknown is not as scary. (Usually afterwards, they will remark how fun it was and they loved leading!)

Parents are always very impressed with their child taking the lead in his/her learning, EVEN if he or she is struggling. Students understand what they need to do to become proficient because the criteria is so clear on their Self-Report Cards. I usually have 100% family participation at conferences. Several times parents have taken this so seriously that the parent who comes will “facetime” the parent who could not physically attend! THAT never used to happen when doing traditional parent conferences! If occasionally a parent does not sign up for a conference, I still hold the conference with the child and we set our goals together.

One of my former dads, who was a very successful business CEO, commented on how wonderful he thought Student-Led Conferences were. He said that his 8-year old daughter just did what he asked his own (adult) employees to do: self-evaluations. He had his workers identify their own strengths and then set a goal for performance! How awesome that we are instilling these valuable life skills in our little ones! And they CAN do it!

Having also participated as a PARENT while my own daughters have led their conferences, I cannot emphasize the value enough!! It brought tears to my eyes (every time! Literally!) to realize how independent and articulate they had become and how accurate their self-assessments. (Although I had to laugh because each time their teachers would ask me to fill out my parent section on the Three Pluses and a Goal, I kept accidentally beginning to write in the teacher section!)

At the end of the year, we celebrate all our growth by having a portfolio party. We invite parents and families (and administrators). A few students welcome our families and explain about portfolio selection and reflection, goal setting, self-report cards, and self-evaluations. They share their feelings about taking the lead in their learning, then students scatter around the room and outside our classroom to share their Fall-Spring progress. If some kids do not have a family member present, other parents “adopt” them during the party and they also share their portfolios with them.
I’ve compiled all the forms needed for Student Portfolios here. I hope it is helpful in getting you started!
Student-led conferences solidify the home-school connection and all (stakeholders) are viewed as an integral part of each child’s success. As my grade-level partner, Danny, says, “Even though they (student-led conferences) take longer, I would never do conferences the old way. These are so much more meaningful!”


  1. I love love love how you have this explained. I tried student led conferences before and they were SO much work, but the way you have it set up seems so beneficial. I am pinning this for next year!

    Teaching in Room 6

    1. Thanks, Stephanie! You will never go back to the traditional conference! And this set-up is very doable!