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Student-led conferences: PYP parents find out how the world works

Brian Lalor is the PYP Coordinator at Xi’an Hi-Tech International School in China

Brian Lalor is the PYP Coordinator at Xi’an Hi-Tech International School in China

This article describes the preparations, planning process and reflections on student-led conferences.

Communicating with parents has always been one of the most important aspects of my teaching. When I moved to Xi’an Hi-Tech International School, I learned that student-led conferences were a strategy used in many IB World Schools. I contacted my former mentor Helen Teese – currently teaching at The International School of Penang (Uplands) – for advice. She was very helpful and I would like to acknowledge her support.

A student-led conference is basically the student inviting their parents to the class to share in the learning journey. To plan, I decided to write the parents an information letter together with the students – this gave the students ownership of the conferences. To do this we drew a mind map on the whiteboard, began to brainstorm ideas and decided on the following four stations:

  • A portfolio station where the students would show their parents the work they did in their portfolios. They would focus on mathematics at this station and show their parents a recent summative assessment piece.
  • A unit of inquiry station – we had just finished the transdisciplinary theme, How the world works and had been pasting our work onto a version of Kath Murdoch’s inquiry cycle on the floor (see image below). The students walked through the six stages of the cycle while explaining it to their parents, whereafter they went to the whiteboard to show their summative assessment. This could be in the form of a PowerPoint, poster, video or other form of media.
  • A literacy station. Students in groups of about six had created a book which demonstrated parts of the PYP literacy scope and sequence that we had been learning. We created hard copies of the books and also used smartphones, iMovie and YouTube to create digital stories. One of them can be found here.
  • A parent reflection station. We created a form with four questions for parents to complete:
    – What piece of my work did you like best?
    – How could I improve in the future?
    – What did you like best about the conference?
    – How could we improve it in the future?
Inquiry Cycle  Parents loved hearing their students explain the sorting out phase and reading out their conclusions

Inquiry cycle Parents loved hearing their students explain the sorting out phase and reading out their conclusions

The reflection station had the potential to be a powerful tool for feedback and communication; however, I would change some things to make it more effective. Although I encouraged the parents to write their reflections in their home language, many chose to write in English and this may have provided more superficial answers. Next year I will have the questions translated and ask for the answers to be in their mother tongue. Some of the comments were not very constructive – comments like: “Work harder next time” were not beneficial to the students. However, we did receive comments such as: “More opportunities to come into the class should be provided”.

Preparing for these conferences took time; we practiced for about an hour each day for a week. After the student-led conferences we reflected on them as a class. I asked the students if they enjoyed the experience and whether their parents enjoyed them. Their responses were very positive; some parents attended who had not been to the other parent-teacher conferences. It seemed parents were much more interested in hearing and being led by their child rather than the teacher.

I am sure many other schools are doing student-led conferences and I would to like to learn how to improve on this process. However, I do hope this post has been useful to demonstrate what I believe is excellent practice at Xi’an Hi-Tech International School.

This was Brian’s first year teaching the PYP at Xi’an Hi-Tech International School and from August 2015 he is starting his new role as PYP Coordinator. Brian Lalor has been attempting to follow in his mother’s footsteps for 12 years now. He has been teaching internationally for that time while his mum, Stasia Lalor taught for 42 years. He wrote his Masters thesis on Professional Learning Communities and has both presented at educational conferences and published papers on that topic.  Brian very much appreciates connecting with and learning from his peers. Follow Brian on Twitter @brianlalor.

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