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Student-led conferences: Trying a new approach

Lisa Hughes

Lisa Hughes, Elementary Principal, Hanoi International School, Vietnam

In this article you will read how a school changed their approach to facilitating student-led conferences to avoid students ‘freezing’. 

It is that that time of year again for students and teachers to prepare themselves for student-led conferences (SLC’s). In my varied overseas experience, these types of conferences—although they may be organized differently in international school settings—provide opportunities for students to share their learning, strengths, achievements and goals.

However, in my time as a class/homeroom teacher and having been actively involved in facilitating students to organize their own SLC’s, one thing kept occurring. No matter how much preparation time we gave the students, no matter how clear a system or structure we had in the school or class for students to easily access portfolios and their goal setting, no matter how much we encouraged the conferences to be in the child’s mother tongue; some students just literally ‘froze’ when it came to sharing their learning with their parent or caregiver.

As a grade 5 teacher at the time, I gave this considerable thought and wondered how our students could share their learning confidently to their parents and to avoid any student(s) ‘freezing’. What if students were given the opportunity to share to adults within the school before they share to their parents/caregivers? One morning, I invited all the single subject teachers, support teachers and teacher assistants to conference with the grade 5 students about their digital portfolios; each student had 30 minutes with one teacher. This simple act of sharing was quite powerful; it had many positive ‘knock on’ affects that I had not even considered and not just for the students, but also for the adults in the room.

One observation I noted was that this system of sharing helped to develop the relationship between teachers and individual students – teachers were taking the time to get to really know their students in a different learning context or discipline. Another observation was how some of the students, in the 30 minutes, had educated the teacher assistants about digital portfolios and spent time sharing the latest apps and ICT tools that they had used. Some single subject teachers had never seen some of the students’ process of written work or self management and self-organizational skills and as a result learned more about specific  students.

Each ‘teacher-student conference’ was recorded and some of the grade 5 students decided to open their student-led conference with the video, allowing them to take time to set the tone, build their self confidence and to give them thinking time before they began their SLC.

Now as Head of Elementary at Hanoi International School, the sharing of portfolios with teachers is an annual event in grade 5. But what about students in other grades? Currently in our school, students from other grades have an opportunity to share their learning with their peers and the next step is to launch this system in the younger grades to see if it has a similar valued effect on the students who need help and support to build their confidence.

Lisa Hughes began her international teaching career in 2000: from Helsinki, Paris, Istanbul, Astana and now in Hanoi, Vietnam, where along the way she has added to her professional growth as a teacher, a coordinator and currently as an Elementary Principal. She tweets from @lisakatehughes and her school blog can be found at

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3 Responses to Student-led conferences: Trying a new approach

  1. Jabbie Rosario 3 November 2016 at 11:11 am #

    Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for sharing this.I am curious about your e-portfolio.
    Would it be possible to take a look at it?

  2. Raji 18 November 2016 at 1:11 pm #


    Actually I tried doing Mock SLC today in my class(as tomorrow it’s our SLC).I paired up the kids , especially the new and old because I have a handful of new children who are new to this board.This worked out very well.One student she came and said that Ma’am we need to do this way of Mock SLC the previous day so that we can be more confident in our presentation.To my surprise,one student helped his new buddy on how better he can organize his understanding while explaining to his parents.

    Great learning experience.
    Raji G4

  3. Jessica 21 March 2017 at 11:47 am #

    Hi Lisa,

    It’s so great to come across you here! Because we are doing SLC’s at my school for the first year and I am looking for tips to share with my team to lead them through it…no surprise to find you here on the PYP sharing blog with a wonderful idea to warm up the students so they won’t “freeze” at the big moment. Thanks for the helpful tips.

    Hope you’re doing well in Hanoi. I’m just over the hills in Chiang Mai btw.
    From Jessica R (MEFIS days, remember?)

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