8 Reasons to Try Student Led Conferences


                              
Let’s be honest, do you dread that parent teacher conference time of the year? If so, there is a way to make the whole experience much less nerve wracking, while still being beneficial for all of those involved. Student led conferences are a great way to engage both the parents and the student, instead of putting the spotlight only on the teacher.

We have done student led conferences for years and we love them. They take a little bit of work upfront but it is mostly just guiding the students in their preparation. This type of conference can still be done even if you are teaching virtually this year! 


Read on to find out the top 8 reasons why you should do student led conferences with your class this year and to grab some free resources.


1. The prep is much less time consuming for you as the teacher than with traditional conferences.

Since they are student led, most of the information to be shared is being gathered by students. We start about a week before the conferences and have the students put together a portfolio of work to share using a checklist. They work on a different reflection page each day and gather samples of work from all of the subjects.
 

2. They are a great way for students to really reflect on their progress.

As we said, we have students fill out several reflection pages where they rate their work habits and behavior, share grades, Class Dojo points, etc. They also have many opportunities to set goals for themselves. They are not only thinking about how they have done so far in the year, but they think ahead to what they would like to accomplish in the future.

3. Students are forced to take ownership of their own behavior/work.

As students work on completing their portfolios, we always stress how important it is to really be honest with themselves. When we sit down for a conference with the student and their parents, they know that we can always chime in with a question or bring up any differences between what we have noticed at school versus what they have shared. More often than not, our students are very truthful and many times are harder on themselves than we would have been. 


4. Students can feel a sense of empowerment.

Allowing students to take the lead and be in a position of power during the conference is one of our favorite reasons for doing student led conferences. It’s fun to see them rise to the occasion. It also gets across the message that while their teacher and parents are there to support them, it is really the students themselves that are going to drive their own learning and progress. 


5. Students benefit from receiving their parents’ attention.

Life is so busy and parents, especially those with multiple children, don’t always get to give a lot of focused attention to a child. Taking a few minutes to let their child be the star of the show is really affirming for students and they tend to really benefit from receiving both their parents’ and teacher’s attention. An added bonus is that parents are usually very pleasantly surprised to see their child present in a way that is very different from what they see at home.


6. It builds a strong home-school connection.

Parents are more willing to come in for a conference when they know that their child will be leading it. It may even be a way to get more reluctant or hard to reach parents involved. Sometimes parents are nervous about coming into the school if they are not fluent in English. In these instances in the past, we have either allowed the students to present to their parents in their native language or arranged for an interpreter to be present through the ESL teacher.


7. It can be a fun and enjoyable time for all!

We really play up the student being the star of the show by making it into a “Hollywood” event. We put out a red carpet outside of the classroom door and display Walk of Fame writing assignments in the hallway, where students talk about why they are a superstar. The students dress up for their conference and they get to sit in the teacher chair to share their work. As soon as it is time to start, we allow them to lead the conference and we serve more as a facilitator. After they finish, we take a picture of them with their parents which we send home later as a reminder of their special night.


8. These conferences can be done both virtually and in person!

It’s great to be able to have the in person experience, however it is still very possible to have a student led conference virtually. Students can complete digital slides and share their work through video conferencing apps such as Zoom or Google Meet. We would recommend having a copy of each student’s slides so that you can present them from your computer as they share.  


If you’re ready to try out student led conferences check out our Student Led Conference Resource. It has everything you need to try this with your class. Also, for those that are doing virtual conferences, we have our Student Led Digital Conferences.  

Finally, here is a free editable resource with the letter we send home and a list of websites that can be passed out at the end of the conference for parents who need resources at home.

So have we convinced you yet? If you decide to try student led conferences this year, comment below and let us know how it goes!




10 Ideas for Social Distancing in the Classroom

For those teachers going back into the classroom to teach this fall, we know that it feels kind of like trying to navigate a minefield. You already have so much on your plate at the beginning of the year; and now in this unprecedented time, you are being asked to extend yourselves even more! We would like to share 10 ideas to help you get your school year started as smoothly as possible in the socially distanced classroom. So, take a deep breath and read on.


1. Make Expectations Visual

It's so important for students to clearly know what the expectations are for them as they return to school. Creating a sign together helps clearly communicate what they can and can not do. You might even draw diagrams to show what it looks like to stay in their personal space during class or at lunch time. Some expectations you might write are:

Keep hands and feet to yourselves
Wash your hands for 20 seconds before lunch and after recess
Wash your hands for 20 seconds after you use the bathroom 
Use only your own supplies
Sneeze and cough into your elbow
Eat your own food only                                                                                                                      

2. Teach Students How to Wash Their Hands

Don’t assume that your students know how to wash their hands the correct way. Make sure to clearly demonstrate what they should be doing every time they go to wash their hands. This includes emphasizing that they wash for at least 20 seconds. They can sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" or "Mary Had a Lamb". You can even go to https://washyourlyrics.com/ to create a poster for the classroom with song lyrics. Here are a couple of videos that you can use to show students how to wash:                                                                                                        

For Younger Kids


For Older Kids

                                              

3. Create Sanitizing Stations 

If you don't have a sink in your classroom, students should know where they can go if they need to get sanitizer fast. Make a couple of stations with hand sanitizer, tissues, wipes, paper towels, etc. and encourage the frequent use of them throughout the day. It’s also a good idea to further sanitize the room by having students wipe their desks at the end of each day.     

4. Redesign Flexible Seating 

It may seem that the idea of flexible seating in the classroom went out the window when Covid-19 arrived however there are still ways to make it work. Obviously anything that can’t be cleaned or sanitized regularly is out, but you can still give students options for where they will work. You might use a system where they are in the same spot for a week. Each spot is then sanitized at the end of the week and they can choose a different spot for the following week.        

5. Allow Students to Have Ownership of Their Space 


If your students will be sitting at the same desk everyday, help them to get excited about their personal space. Try calling it their "office" or "workstation". Give them an opportunity to decorate it and make it their own. They can create signs, bring in pictures from home, make name tents or decorate with painters tape or fun washi tape.             
                                                                                                                         

6. Get Students Moving 

With so many restrictions, the temptation is for educators to have students at their seats on the computer all day long to keep them safe. However, that is a recipe for a very boring school day, and unhappy students make an unhappy teacher. Find ways to get students out of their seats, even if they are spread apart. They can stand up if they think they know the answer to a question, or you can create fun hand signals with chants for them to do. Another way to get students moving is by taking lots of brain breaks. If you don’t already use the website GoNoodle with your students you should! There are a ton of fun interactive videos that you can do together.               
                                         

7. Get Creative with Instructional Activities 

Even for the veteran teacher, getting students to learn material will look very different at the start of this year. In order to limit the number of students in a space at one time, you might need to split the class in half or into small groups and stagger assignments. Have each group of students do a different station each day or assign a few students to various activities. It’s also important to still have student to student interaction Allow partners or group members to write down responses on whiteboards and hold them up for each other to see. Students can record videos using websites, such as Flipgrid and their classmates can respond. If you're looking for guided Flipgrid activities for the start of the year, check out our Beginning of the Year Flipgrid Surveys. Also, be on the lookout for areas with more space where students can spread out. Use the hallway or teach outside when the weather is nice.   
                                                                                                                                      

8. Make Use of Video Conferencing Tools

There will most likely be few to no adults visiting your classroom in the fall, but that doesn’t mean that guests are out! In fact, you might be able to arrange for even more of a variety of guests to “visit” your classroom through Zoom or Google Meet. Allow parents to sign up to be a mystery reader. Try and connect with a classroom in another part of the world or an expert in a certain field. Students will love getting to see different faces and hear about others' experiences.
                                                          

9. Rethink Classroom Jobs 

The days of classroom jobs as usual are gone for now. You might not be able to do paper passers and pencil sharpeners, however jobs such as line leader, caboose, and attendance helper can still work. Think outside the box to come up with other classroom jobs, such as human timer, noise monitor, or chant leader. Get input from your students! There are still ways for them to have an active role in their classroom community.                        
                                         

10. Create Individual Supply Bags

You can cut down on germs by having students use separate supplies. Create bags ahead of time and label them with the students' names. You can even separate out math manipulatives. Make sure to label clipboards, whiteboards, and give students their own dry erase markers to use. You can cut up felt or hot glue pom poms to the marker caps to create individual erasers. 

You'll find this tip and many more in this free back to school e-book!

We hope you found some of these tips useful. Have a great school year! 

8 Ideas to Get to Know Your Students Virtually

Are you going to be teaching virtually this year? Distance learning presents many new challenges for teachers and parents alike, but perhaps the most difficult part is getting to know your students so that you can make connections with them when you're not even in the same room!

We all know how important it is to connect with your students and YES: this is still possible to do virtually! We've collected some great ideas that you can use TODAY to help you at the beginning of the school year.

1. Create a Virtual Classroom

Virtual classrooms are all the rage right now, and they're so fun to create! There are tons of youtube videos that will guide you through the process of creating your own. Decorate it with your favorite colors, posters and furniture. The best part is, you can add hyperlinks to objects that will lead students to websites or videos they need to use. Sound too complicated or don't have time to make your own? Check out tip #2 for a premade one!

2. Virtual Meet the Teacher Open House

One of the most exciting nights of the year is Meet the Teacher/Open House night! The students are excited to see their classroom for the first time, and you're excited to see all those adorable smiles that will fill your classroom all year long. If you're teaching virtually, you can still preserve some of that excitement by holding a virtual Meet the Teacher Open House. We've created one and it's already formatted for you, all you have to do is add your pictures, videos and text. Students will love to see pictures from your life and parents will get all the information they need for a successful school year. Click here to grab yours!

3. Put a Finger down if... Get to Know You Game

This is a super simple game that you can play with all of your students as an ice breaker, or just to get to know your students a little more. This game would be perfect for a video conference meeting like Zoom or Google Meet. Here's how to play:
  • Have your students hold up all 10 fingers so that everyone can see them in their screen. 
  • The teacher will say a statement. If it is true for them, they will put a finger down. If it's not true for them, their finger stays up. 
  • Students would be out if all of their fingers were put down.
Examples: 
  1. "Put a finger down if you've ever forgotten to turn in your homework."                             
  2. ".....if you've ever forgotten your lunch at home."                                       
  3. ".....if you've ever arrived to school late."              
  4. ".....if you've ever missed school to go on vacation."  
  5. ".....if your favorite special class is gym."
  6. ".....if you've ever walked into the wrong classroom on accident."
  7. ".....if you've ever gone to the nurse at school."
  8. ".....if math is your favorite subject to learn."
  9. ".....if you've accidentally called your teacher 'MOM'."
  10. ".....if you think this will be the best school year ever!"
The questions are really endless! We love this game because it helps students see that they have commonalities with other classmates and they just love it!

4. Virtual Show and Tell 

Who doesn't love a good old fashioned Show and Tell? Let's face it, kids love to talk about themselves, their families and show off something that's important to them. There are several variations of this idea that you can use: show a special toy and explain when you got it, show us a picture that makes you think of a special memory, show your pet/sibling/family member and tell us something about them that makes them special to you. 

5. Flipgrid 

Ok, if you're teaching virtually this year and you don't know about Flipgrid...stop reading this right now and sign yourself up for a free account (then come back to read how we use it with our students!) Flipgrid is a free video recording platform with endless possibilities. Students can record a video based upon a question posed by the teacher, a video or any type of assignment that requires a response. We use Flipgrid, with these surveys, at the beginning of the year to get to know our students personally. We love that other students are able to watch other classmates' videos and record a video response back. This would be a great way to have students interview a classmate by recording videos back and forth to answer the questions. We use the surveys mainly as a brainstorming sheet, so that the students know what they want to say when they go to record the video. We've found our ELL students do phenomenally well with using Flipgrid and are more comfortable speaking in English in a video then they were in class.  

6. Me Behind My Mask: A Self Portrait

If you're looking for a fun art activity to do with your students, check out Cassie Stephen's adorable self-portrait idea! Every year we have our students draw a self portrait at the beginning of the year that we hang up in our classroom as a year long decoration. Since our students won't be with us in a classroom this year, we wanted to continue using the self portrait idea. Cassie has a guided drawing video to walk students step by step through the process. We love the addition of the mask too! 

7. Padlet

After your students draw their self-portrait, you can have them post a picture of it on Padlet. Padlet is another great free resource where students can post images or videos and other students can comment on their post. Think of it as a virtual bulletin board! After your students post their self-portrait picture, other students could guess who they think the portrait is in the comments. 

8. Don't Forget Classmate Connections

One of the hardest parts of virtually teaching is to provide our students with opportunities to connect with each other. There's no recess for them to play together or lunch to eat and share giggles across the table. Sometimes it's so easy to focus on the academics and try to control the chaos of video class meetings by having everyone on mute, but it's equally important to provide them with opportunities to talk, laugh and have fun together. A simple virtual lunch bunch group meeting allows students the opportunity to just chat and have fun together while they eat lunch. 

Even though you won’t get to share the hugs and high fives as usual, it’s so important to let kids know that even virtually, they are a special part of your classroom community.  These activities can still give kids an opportunity to let their personalities shine through. Good luck with your school year!