Student Learning Conferences: Continuing the Transition to Student-Directed Learning

This blog is the second of a two-part series on Learner Voice.

In my last blog post, I discussed how teachers can use the Spectrum of Student Voice Oriented Activity to reflect on how they can start moving their classroom activities from being teacher-directed to more student-directed. In this post, we’ll look at the practice of implementing Student Learning Conferences, or SLCs, to develop learner voice.

A SLC is a quarterly, one-on-one conference between a teacher and a student in which the student leads a conversation about their learning and sets learning goals that will be supported by teacher. Ultimately, the teacher’s role during SLCs is to help the student develop one measureable learning goal per unit that is connected to the larger learning outcomes, and to explicitly link assessments to these goals. When implemented well, SLCs develop the capacity of students to analyze their progress, use artifacts to discuss their current performance and set measurable goals, and create a plan to reach their goals.

There are three steps in the SLC process:

Step #1: Students set challenging, yet attainable learning goals based on where they are in their current learning and where they need to be.

SLCs entail a gradual release of responsibility, moving from more traditional teacher-led conferences to student-participation conferences before finally becoming student-led. At first, teachers will have to model for students how to assess what they have learned through reflection and data and give examples of measurable goals that connect to the larger learning outcomes. For example, a science teacher might say to her sixth-grade student, “I’m glad you recognize that we as scientists need to be able to follow the scientific method. You said you want this quarter’s goal to be to ‘I will be aware of the scientific method.’ What if we rephrased that a little so you could demonstrate your awareness? How about ‘I will document how I apply the scientific method while conducting an experiment with partners?’” Once a goal is set, the teacher’s role is to describe how they and the students’ parents will support the student in reaching their goal.

Step #2: Students engage in open, honest, and productive dialogue about their own learning.

In order for SLCs to be effective, students need to be able to define and discuss what they have learned and what they are struggling to understand or do. An easy way to get students started is to ask them to make “I can” statements related to the knowledge and skills they are being asked to acquire. As students become more comfortable making statements about what they have learned, teachers can ask them to share samples of their work and analyze where they have attained mastery and where they have room for improvement. This will help students prioritize the areas they want to grow.

Step #3: Students assess their progress towards achieving learning outcomes.

At each subsequent SLC, students should assess their progress on their previous quarter’s goal, discuss their current performance, and then develop a goal, and a plan for how to reach that goal, for the upcoming quarter. One way to assist students in assessing their progress is to have them track their progress using charts or graphs. All students should also have a work portfolio that they update weekly. Students can continue to build this portfolio from year to year if SLCs are being implemented schoolwide.

Teachers should make every effort to explicitly link formative and summative assessments to student goals. Consider using rubrics to score assessments so they can provide descriptive details on outcomes that help students understand where they are succeeding and struggling. By varying the type of assessments given, teachers can also help individual students recognize how they learn best and set goals accordingly.

When implementing SLCs, keep these general guidelines in mind:

  • Students lead the conversation
  • Students share successes of past quarter
  • Students share learning goals for upcoming quarter

Read part one of this blog: Developing Learner Voice: The Transition to Student-Directed Learning.

Jessica Chung


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