I have just finished my last round of parent-teacher conferences. In my school, conferences are scheduled for 15 minutes. In most cases this has been just about the right amount of time. I have decided to do a short blog post about how I do conferences for those of you who are interested. I would also love to hear how other teachers structure their conferences as I am always looking for ways to improve what I do. I have asked my parents (through our November newsletter) to give me feedback about the format I used but so far have not had any feedback. So, if you are a parent who attended one of my conferences, feedback would be appreciated!! :0)
Although I have a very nice office adjacent to my classroom (I know, I'm SO lucky!!), I prefer to do my conferences right in the classroom. That just makes it so easy to point out different areas and materials to parents when I am talking to them. I also like this because it allows the parents to somewhat experience our little environment. It seems cozy somehow. The photo above shows how I set up for conferences. As you can see, I set up a card table in the center of my "line" area. I added two folding chairs for the parents and wheeled in my desk chair from the office. Next to that table I set up two of our classroom tables next to each other to hold my conference materials. More on those in a moment. You can also see that I have a laptop computer set up on the card table. Since I upload classroom photos constantly for the blog and take MANY photos of the children (ones that aren't on the blog that show their whole little selves, not just hands!) I decided to set up files on my computer for each student. That makes it very easy when I upload photos to just quickly send individual photos to their respective files. Before conferences, I saved these photo files to a flashdrive and took an extra laptop computer we had at home so I could begin each conference with a little slide show of the student. I think the parents really appreciated this glimpse into their child's classroom life. And it was a very positive way to begin each conference.
On the tables next to my chair I had a standing file which held each child's individual folder along with our peace rose and an article from a Montessori journal about the peace rose (I gave a copy to each parent). I also had a little pad of Post-its for either me or the parents to jot down a note if needed. And I had my clipboard of data sheets so I could explain my record-keeping system to them. I also pulled some of my language materials off the shelves and had it ready to show as many children are beginning sound books and I wanted the parents to be able to see the materials I use for those.
So, after the slideshow, I opened the child's individual folder (they each brought one as a class supply at the beginning of the year) and showed the parents the following:
1.) Cutting sample: Each fall and spring each child cuts out a circle and square to show progress and mastery of cutting skills. It is nice to show how this skill improves over the school year. These samples remain in the folder so they can be compared to spring samples.
2.) Self-portrait: Each child completed a self-portrait in class after I did a demonstration on a small white board at group time. Again, this is nice to have because we will compare these to their spring portraits.
3.) Progress report: I used a form that had been used at this school when my older son attended. This particular form (which I don't have a digital copy of.....sorry!) has Personal and Social Growth on one side and Work Habits on the other side. There are several descriptors under each category and for each descriptor I marked "Most of the time", "Some of the time" and "Seldom" according to the frequency with which I see the individual behaviors listed. There is also a small space for me to add child-specific comments (which I did for each student). The parents got to take this report with them.
4.) Curriculum overview sheet: This is a form I filled out for each student. I typed up a list of the basic materials/activities in each curricular area of the classroom and used an orange pen to X off the activities that I have presented and/or that the child has self-selected. Before showing this form to the parents I explained my record-keeping system to them. I have a clipboard (shown in the photo above) onto which I have clipped a paper for each classroom session (i.e. Monday AM; Tuesday AM; Tuesday PM). Each paper is divided into 20 small spaces and each student's name is written into a space. During the work period I use this form to jot down lessons I give to individual students as well as work that I observe them choosing independently. That way I have an anecdotal record that reflects SOME of what they are doing in the classroom. I will continue to add to this form during their time at my school.
5.) Other work samples: My students pretty much take home work as they complete it. However, their sound books and number books stay in their cubbies until they are complete. Prior to conferences, I pulled these out of their cubbies and placed them in their conference folders to show parents.
I like to end the conference by asking if the parents have any other questions or concerns to discuss. I also like to ask them what their children enjoy doing at home. Sometimes children love to count at home, for example, but don't choose the number work at school. I find the insight from parents to be crucial in helping me decide what lessons a child may be ready for next.