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Preparing for student led conferences in a new entrant classroom

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Fina Hallman, from Flanshaw Road School, gave this presentation at the Auckland Principals' Association conference. Fina outlines the ways she helps her students to 'learn to learn' as they prepare for running student led conferences in her new entrant classroom. 

Professional learning conversations

These questions and suggested actions encourage you to reflect on your own school context.

Reporting to parents and whānau

The key contributors to learning classrooms are teachers, students, and parents and whānau. These contributors need to maintain close dialogue, share information, and work together if students are to be fully supported in their learning. 

Ministry of Education Assessment Position Paper, 2011

  • How could you develop a common language of learning at your school? What would it look like?
  • How could you involve parents more in the preparation of conferences?
  • Fina uses five methods to teach her students how to talk about their learning in a meaningful way. Consider asking all the teachers in your school to trial these in their classrooms.

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Information sharing diagram
Effective reporting includes sharing with parents and whānau through both formal written reports and informal reciprocal exchanges of information. On this page you can see the information sharing process as a diagram.


I’m Fina and I’m teaching a new entrant class. I’ve just completed my second year doing student led conferences and when the concept was first voiced to me I was a bit [jaw drops]. I’d come from Britain and this is my third year in New Zealand and the idea of a five year old actually being able to speak to their parents about their learning, and being the authority on their learning, was for me a bit of a shock. Brand new, just [scream] disaster how am I going to do this? Especially, as anybody who teaches new entrants knows, when they come into school they have got no idea about their learning. They’ve got no idea why they’re there. Sometimes they might say they’ve come to learn but you ask what they’ve come to learn, you get a varied response. Asking the class why we come to school - ‘I come to school to clean tables and make cars.’ Lovely, fantastic, very cross gender, loved it, (it was a girl that actually said this). My challenge is to enable the children so they can actually vocalise their learning to all stakeholders. With themselves being the most important stakeholder in that. So it’s themselves, their parents, myself, board of trustees, and any other adults that they might come into contact with. 

So how can I do this? It’s no good starting any preparation to do student led conferences about two weeks before, just thinking ‘Oh I’m going to get them practice saying this’. Especially with young children I think there’s lots of opportunities where we can get them to say ‘monkey see, monkey do’. We can teach them to say things but it doesn’t actually mean anything to them. So a big challenge about how to make it meaningful for them so they’re not just parroting things that they’ve heard.

Then it’s several elements of common classroom practice which I’d like to share with you. They’re:

  • marking ladders
  • reflection time
  • exemplars
  • I say, you say
  • shared progress and achievement.

I’ll start with shared progress and achievement. A common feature of lots of classrooms in New Zealand is that we actually do share where the children are at in their learning. This is available for all children to see in reading, writing and maths. Because it’s a very collaborative classroom any progress or achievement that children make in any area of their learning is celebrated within the class. The other children will actually speak to them and say, ‘Oh what did you do to move up a level? What new learning was it that you did?’ That’s all done through me modelling that talk and modelling that speech the whole time, and allowing time for that in the classroom.

The next thing I wish to share is writing exemplars. They are actually magnetic and so the kids can actually come up to them and see them. So we start at 0 fluent - all the way up to the next level above where the top child is in the class. It’s on arrows and it’s all magnetic so they can pick up the bit or I can pick up the bit and say, ‘OK your writing’s level one early, go and see what you need to do to make it level one fluent’. They can come and find the bit that they need, take it back to their table, and then that becomes their own personal target for that particular lesson. I can then use that to write up in their writing books for the following days. Again, their photos are around this where each of the levels are. You notice parents will come in and ask questions, very clear to parents. Parents are also developing the language that what it means to be a level one emergent and what it looks like. So that knowing where their levels are and knowing specifically what it means that they’re at that level, can see the next level above so they know that they’re moving forward as well.

Moving on to reflection. When we first started reflection time they say things like, ‘My learning’s good.’ ‘Why is your learning good?’ ‘Cos I’m good.’

Fabulous they know now what learning is but it’s trying to get that in depth learning a bit which does mean allocating time for the reflection. So I’ll read some of these (up here if you can’t see them) this Delana just before the holidays and she was talking about Mana’s because another part of this is initially they start off talking about their own learning, then they move on to talking about somebody else’s learning. It might be a sample that I’m holding up or sharing in a plenary session.

Delana here says about Mana’s learning. ‘Mana’s learning is extended abstract because he wrote heaps and used 100 pieces of brain. This is feedback’ And that is her verbatim quote about Mana’s - I can’t remember what it was he was learning about. Some of them tend to be more specific. Manu here has said about Sam. ‘Sam did good writing because he tried to recognise how to spell run’. So they’re already using that language. Moving it forward from, again me modelling it, and saying your learning is good because... Then asking about my own teaching, they’re still not so good at this bit obviously need to do some more on it. Mila saying “Mrs Hallman has done good teaching because she knows how to teach the class”.

Biggest challenge, as I said, is moving it from the ‘it is good’ kind of comments. So I started thinking about my marking. Thinking what can I do so they actually fully understand what it is? Initially I started with ‘I say’. This would be where I would be saying I say that your writing is good because you remember to leave spaces. Then I’d be giving them feed forward and I’d be saying, I say, “the next time what you need to do is blah blah blah”. Again still getting similar comments to the ‘it is good’ but now they’re getting “it is good because I left a space”. Then completely switched it around so they became far more independent. And the smiley face basically is just the feedback. We use it very much a positive phrase at this age, say it’s their feedforward, so they actually say it now first. So I’m not giving them the prompts, it’s actually coming from them. Real huge step for them in terms of they’re not just repeating what I say they actually have to look at their own piece of work to decide what it is that they’ve done well and what they need to do better next time.

Marking ladders also used in conjunction with - I've put some writing ones and some maths ones up here - the differentiator I started off doing modelled and shared writing so they get to know about their success criteria and begin to look at their own work to reflect upon it. Use these initially when I’m doing model to shared writing, I just tick them then the next stage to that is they become involved in that and they actually will then tell me which boxes I can tick which boxes I can’t, after I’ve done modelled and shared writing. These are now left up on the board when they’ve done a piece of writing they can then go and use that and refer it back to themselves. Giving themselves ticks or crosses they put crosses they can then use that when they come to do the ‘I say you say.’ There’s also one there for maths which uses the SOLO taxonomy headings.

So actually when it came to do the student led conferences, children are involved in a multitude of ways. They actually decide which activities we’re going to be doing and they're going to be sharing with their parents.  In terms of the classroom layout, what the classroom is actually going to look like. So they decided they wanted to read a story with their grown up. There’s individual book boxes all ready for them to choose a story and a prompt card for the children. What they actually need to be talking to their parents about. They have also been doing algebra and patterns. They wanted their grown ups to make patterns so the table is set up and again, a prompt card for them so they can decide what to do, remind their parent to make a pattern. Because we’ve been using descriptions in our writing, again a prompt card for the children to remind them what it is that they needed to be doing.

Then it came to the parents and what the parents actually needed to do and how they became involved. Right from the very beginning from the very first day, I was forewarning them, letting them know that when it came to term two their children were the ones who were going to be telling them about their learning.  In term one we have five week meetings where it’s myself and the child we’re talking about what it is the child’s able to do, what the next learning steps are going to be, and then also on family fun night we’re sharing what is going to happen at the student led conferences. Because parents have access to the classroom the whole time before school and after school they get used to seeing this stuff around in the classroom and in their notebooks that go home, also talking about what their child’s learning intention is, what the child has said about their learning that day.

I also hand out, actually on the evening, a kind of prompt sheet for parents. To support parents to support their child so that their child can be successful. And then my role. My role in all of this was ensuring children did have the time to practice. Either with buddy in class, buddy class, with me, we videoed each other, they were videoing each other doing it, giving themselves feedback and feed forward. And as I said right at the very beginning, initially I was like ‘Oh what are parents going to think about this?' Incredible, absolutely incredible. Parents feel far more involved in their learning. And as Jason’s Mum says, 'We had fun at Jason’s led conference (see she said ‘Jason’s’ rather than student-led conference) at Jason’s led conference yesterday and reading through the portfolio helped us to understand where he thinks he’s at and where he is actually at and how we can help at home - thanks.'

That was gorgeous bit of [pats back] for me. And in fact the work the children put in. That's it - just go for it.

Published on: 17 Oct 2012