A Learning Conference

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The first quarter of seventh grade has ended. Final grades are due. Students are checking the portal, comparing grades, bartering with teachers for a few more points to bump up this grade or that.

I don’t want to talk about grades, but it is part of school culture.  I’ve written about what I call “the ghosts of gradings past” and how so much of our learning mindset is wrapped up in past grading experiences. So, I am trying ways to change the evaluation process by including learning conversations around the mandatory grading periods. In this post, I share a few of those conversations.

The end of a term should be, in my view, a time to celebrate learning, reflect on growth, and give thanks, so I set aside a couple days at the end of the quarter to talk to students one-on-one and try to do all of “that” (celebrate, reflect, and give thanks) in under five minutes. It may seem like an inconsequently length of time, but I think it makes all the difference in our learning relationships.

Prior to conferences, students prepare portfolios in the form of parent-letters and portfolios. I read, view, and listen to these culminating projects throughout the last week of the quarter, and then on the last day of our term, I begin class by asking students to journal for about ten minutes on any or all of these questions:

Then, students work on an alternate project– silent reading, blogging, research, or even writing a novel–while I meet with students one-on-one for our conference. In the three videos offered here with parent permission, I follow a similar format. We talk about their reflection; we decide on a final grade; and I thank them for their contributions to our learning community. Each student offers something unique to our class, and the conference is an opportunity for me to share my observations and gratitude.

Students tell me that they struggled to find time to read but figured out a routine that worked for them. They tell me they are noticing authorial choices in the books they read. They tell me they are learning how to make their stories come alive. They tell me they are writing because they love it and not because it’s an assignment. They tell me that they know they are writers because their classmates laugh at their stories, compliment their word choice, and ask them to write a sequel.

A conference should be a conversation to uncover how students see themselves as readers and writer through and beyond the artifacts or evidence. I want insight into their thinking and self-perception, and I want to share with them what I am learning about who they are and are becoming as readers, writers, and class members so that we can build on those experiences.

Below are two more learning conferences.  The first minute or so are the most important for me as a teacher.  The next two minutes, I do more talking than I’d like, but I think the last 30 seconds may be the most important to students because it’s when I tell students how fortunate I feel to be their teacher. For many, this is the first time they’ve heard a teacher express such gratitude.