Back to school: Student-led conferences

OK, fall is officially here so I suppose it’s time to wrap up the “Back the School” set of blog posts I’ve been doing.

Last but not least, Student-led Conferences. This is something that most schools do NOT do, but some do very successfully. So why is this practice not more well-known? Perhaps it takes a matching philosophy of student empowerment in all areas, including assessment and planning.

Traditional parent-teacher conferences are places where a teacher shares information with parents about their child, parents can ask questions, and together, they can steer the course of a successful educational experience for that child. That’s the ideal, of course, but even that leaves out the most important stakeholder, the student. How can this succeed if the student themself only gets third party reports about what happened?

Proponents of student-led conferences say that the practice put students in charge of their own learning, gives students a better handle on their own progress, and shows parents that student achievement is in the student’s hands, not theirs (or the teacher’s). The hallmark of an effective student conference is preparation, not just for the student to create an authentic report of their own progress, but also for the parents since this is not what most parents are used to.


Student-led Conferences – Very recent and up-to-date information, examples, and resources. Multiple videos for a range of grade levels modeling best practices, viewer guides, handouts, and planning guides from Curriculum Services Canada. These videos show that student-led conferences aren’t just a stunt, but a serious reflection exercise for students, parents and teachers.

Student-led Conferences (Education World) – A good overview article of student-led conferences. Some of the  links have gotten old, but enough are still working to make this a recommend resource.

How to Run Successful Parent-Team Conferences: Tips by the Dozen for Middle-Level Educators (PDF) – An article from Middle Matters magazine in 1998. These tips are timeless!

Student-Led Conferences Hold Kids Accountable (Education World) – quotes research about the benefits of student-led conferences, including higher rates of parent participation.

Successful Student-Led School Conferences – A number of resources and articles from MiddleWeb – Exploring Middle School Reform.


More back to school posts!

NAIS and PETE and C

February and March are hotbeds of activity for state and national education and technology conferences. Next week I’ll be at both ends of the U.S. at two conferences of interest to educators interested in technology.

NAIS is the National Association of Independent Schools annual conference. Private schools have been on the forefront of the laptop movement both in the US and around the world. The 2010 conference is in San Francisco Feb 24-26,  and I’ll be there with the Constructivist Consortium. This is a group of small companies who promote constructivist use of software in schools for creativity and student-centered learning. Generation YES is one of the founding members and we’ll be at booth 239 – come by and say hello!

PETE&C is the Pennsylvania state technology conference held annually in Hershey, PA. Yes, that Hershey, and yes, it does smell like chocolate! Running Feb 24-27, this conference is all about technology and education. Pennsylvania’s education reform program, Classrooms for the Future (CFF) has created a strong network of educator-coaches who support innovative programs statewide. Building internal leadership like this is a terrific idea, and Pennsylvania is certainly reaping the benefits of investing in their own people.

At PETE&C, I’ll be doing a session on Feb 23 on student leadership and digital citizenship – if you are going to PETE&C I hope you’ll stop by.

Student leadership is a topic that might not on the surface seem to be technology related, but schools hoping to increase their authentic use of technology need to be thinking about. The guiding principle of putting power into student hands can be both concrete (actually handing them equipment) and abstract (giving them responsibility and agency over their learning). Both support each other, and schools that give students responsibility and guide them as they learn to use it gain so much. Students who believe that they have a stake in their own education will contribute to the effort to make education better for all. Schools that take this  empowerment to heart help create the citizens, learners, and leaders we need in the world.

So say hello in person or on Twitter! I love to meet friends new and old!


The Parent-Teacher Talk Gains a New Participant –

The Parent-Teacher Talk Gains a New Participant –

Today’s New York Times features an article about student participation in teacher-parent conferences. Good news: good facts and stories woven into a compelling article that supports student empowerment by including them in their own education. Bad news: it’s not new, and leaves out the mountains of research and practice about student conferences.

But, Google to the rescue! Here’s a great collection of resources from Education World (and hurray, recently updated) about how to plan and implement successful parent-student-teacher conferences.


Conference 2.0 – changing how sessions are selected

I blogged about EdubloggerCon West the other day as an example of an “unconference” (Conferences must change with the times) and discussed how conferences must move forward to become more dynamic, timely, and better meet the needs of attendees both physical and virtual.

How conference sessions are selected sets the tone for the event. Right now, most conferences select sessions based on a review system created for academic conferences. This system usually consists of a group of readers who rate the proposals. The submissions that score the best from the most reviewers are accepted.

Sounds fair, right? But read on…

Session selection – a bit of history
For academic conferences, session selection is part of the process by which accepted papers are published as proceedings, which enhance the reputation of an academic (publish or perish). The process weeds out papers that don’t meet the conference or journal criteria, makes sure that relevant research results are properly cited, and that the papers form a serious, robust representation of the most current research in the field.

However, conferences that aren’t based on academic publishing tend to retain this legacy. It has become a tradition that no one questions. So the question is — is this unchallenged system really work?

What’s wrong with this process?
I was surprised to find a strong, well-researched argument against the standard session review process on a website from KGCM 2008 (the 3rd International Conference on Knowledge Generation, Communication and Management.)

Now, I don’t know these people at all, but the organization is interested in learning how people learn at conferences. Who knew there was such a thing!

For their own conference and journal, they found that the tried-and-true method of paper and session selection was deeply flawed. Their conclusion – the standard review process is “faulty,” “unreliable,” and worse, tends “…to refuse good papers because of the reviewers’ bias against new ideas or new paradigms.”

“So, it is evident that acceptance policies based on the positive agreement of reviewers will increase the probability of refusing good papers.”

Bias against new ideas
This is bad news for educators going to conferences looking for big ideas that will fundamentally change education. The session selection process works to deny you this opportunity.

Let’s be honest — it’s human nature to resist change. One bad score from one reviewer could easily mean a session is declined, even if other reviewers score it well. It’s why Olympics-style judging throws out the high and low scores.

It’s also natural to want to fit in with the group. When reviewers work together to rate sessions against a rubric, it’s hard not to favor sessions that you think will fit in and make the conference organizers happy.

So in looking at session selection policy, is it any wonder that this method leads to homogenous, cookie cutter selections that represent the acceptable norm? Shouldn’t we be concerned that in times that call for radical change, the standard method for conference session selection is biased against radical proposals?

So what to do instead?
The method this conference uses is different. Instead of scores, they rely on reviewers to recommend either accept or deny. Then:

  1. The majority rule, when there is no agreement among the reviewers with regards to acceptance or non-acceptance, of a given submission.
  2. The non-acceptance of the submission when there is agreement among its reviewers for not accepting it.
  3. Acceptance of the paper when in doubt (a draw or a tie among the opinions of the reviewers, for example).

This seems like a tiny change. Yet the outcome could be completely different.

Would this mean too many accepted sessions? Maybe. But I’m sure there are creative ways to solve these problems. If you read the research-based methodology from KGCM, they have a process designed to pare down the selections. Technology could be part of the answer too. Presentations could go online, for example. Many conferences are also experimenting with shorter sessions, blogger cafes, open forums, and other innovations.

I don’t claim to have “Conference 2.0” figured out, but I think a necessary first step is to challenge our assumptions about how conference programs are assembled.