The Joy of Teaching – An Evan-Moor Blog

Sharing creative ideas and lessons to help children learn

Student-Led Conferences: A Celebration of Learning


image of child reading with parentSix-year-old Sofia arrives at school with her parents. She opens the classroom door and guides them over to her desk. She gathers chairs so she and her parents can cluster together. Amidst the hum of several other students conferencing with their parents, she leads them through a multi-subject portfolio of her work. Sofia reads aloud an “I Can” standard before explaining each work sample. She answers her parents’ questions and demonstrates what she has learned.

My adventure with student-led conferences began about ten years ago. It began when two colleagues and I attended a conference focused on strategies for motivating students. We plunged in nervously, but it was so successful that we never returned to traditional conferences.

What are some benefits of student-led conferences?

  • Students and parents are motivated and empowered by active participation.
  • Parents become directly aware of grade-level expectancies and their child’s progress.
  • Students have the opportunity to synthesize their learning, as well as analyze and drive their own progress—a great way to integrate Common Core methodology.

Getting started:

Custom design student-led conferences to work in your school setting. We decided upon scheduling one or two broad time windows for simultaneous conferences during our regular conference weeks. We estimated that conferences would last about 30 minutes each. We called it the Celebration of Learning.

Plan for the age of your students. We assisted students in putting together their portfolios. A corresponding standard translated into kid-friendly language was attached to each work sample. The week before conferences, we engaged our classes in role-playing practice. This included everything from how to welcome parents to conducting the conference.

Encourage parents not to bring siblings. We wanted parents to pay full attention to their student.

Be flexible. Most families attended the scheduled Celebration of Learning event. This freed up many time slots for anyone needing an alternative appointment.

Provide a list of questions parents can ask their child. Stapled on the back of the portfolios were a set of questions for parents to ask their child. Questions included: What are you really good at in school? What do you need to work on? Are you doing your best? If not, why? How can I help you at home with your schoolwork?

Make it fun! Students were excited to prepare their portfolios and take invitations home for the Celebration of Learning. After their conference, students took their portfolios and a tasty treat to share with their parents.

Back to Sofia’s conference…I hear Sofia ask her parents to help her read at night and log her minutes. She shakes her parents’ hands and thanks them for coming. I talk with Sofia’s family. They are excited to share their observations, acknowledge her progress, and discuss how they can work together at home. They leave together, excited for the next school day.


Image of contributor Marti BeeckMarti Beeck started her career in education as a parent volunteer in her three children’s classrooms. Her teaching experience, including adult school, intervention, and the primary classroom, was inspired by her background in psychology and interest in brain-based learning. Marti currently works in the field of educational publishing as an editor.

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  1. This is a much more positive alternative to the traditional style of parent-teacher conferences. Parents, students, and teachers will benefit greatly from this type of interaction.

    • Thank you, for your comment, Alyssa. We were overwhelmed by the positive responses we had from everyone! It was a challenge to figure out how to make it work for first grade. The examples shown to us before we started were for older grades. One reason it was so successful right from the beginning was because we had three of us working out all the details together. We felt that the student-led conferences changed the whole dynamic of parent involvement and student motivation to a new level of empowerment.

  2. This seems like a daunting task. How would I get started? How long did it take you to get the portfolios together? What did you include in the student’s portfolio? How did you train the students to give their conferences? I like that students are able to become involved with their own learning, explain their work samples and guide their parents through a conference. Amazing!

    • Tina, thank you for your great questions! To get started, I would suggest involving other teachers in your grade level. If they are not interested, you can still implement, but it is easier to plan with others. It is also more exciting for students and parents if other classes are participating as well. Whatever student-led conference plan you come up with, it is important to maintain flexibility for meeting the needs of parents and students.

      Putting the portfolios together takes a chunk of time. We usually started about a month before conference time. As I mentioned, we attached a student-facing “I can” standard to each work sample. However, since the portfolios were representations of what we were doing and learning in class, it was more a matter of planning. We used colorful file folders, and kept them in class. As time went on, we were able to have students do more and more of the compilation and filing in their own portfolio.

      For our first student-led conference, our goal was to have five work samples in each student portfolio. After that, we had closer to ten samples. The work samples covered all subject areas, and were specific to the standards and featured skills that were important at the grading period and the individual student. Some items would include a way for students to demonstrate their learning. For instance, a student might read a story from their textbook, and then discuss story elements. Or, to accompany a social studies work sample, students might point to and name the seven continents on a map. We always included one social/personal development sample as well. For example, students made a work sample chart showing their own illustrations depicting how to solve a conflict. Then they explained the chart to parents.

      To prepare students, we began about a week ahead of time to engage in role playing. We covered everything from manners to how to go through the portfolio, one work sample or task at a time. For the role playing, we would start out with teacher role playing a student, and a student would be the parent. Students loved seeing us in the student role! I would demonstrate how to have manners and take charge with details such as opening the door for their parents, getting chairs for them. Then we would role play how to go through a sample portfolio. After the teacher role play, students were ready to practice with a partner. We also showed them how to thank their parents after the conference.

      As you mentioned, the student-led conference model enables students to be more active participants in their learning. They are more aware of what they have learned, their challenges, and motivated to do whatever they need to do to achieve mastery. It also helps students and parents work more closely together. We were often deeply touched by the parent/student communication that occurred during the conference. It is difficult at first, but after you figure out the details, the process feels more natural. We found it well worth the effort. Best wishes to you!

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