Research shows that most of the talking in parent-teacher conferences is done by the teacher and the parent, with few opportunities for the student to express ideas or pose questions. Most conferences tend to focus on the shortcomings of the student, and their documentation becomes means to show the student appropriate behaviors, rather than focusing on learning progress.
Student led parent conferences aim at shifting the dialogue in favor of the student’s voice and opinions. The work starts with a thematic unit during 1-2 weeks, where the students self-assess their abilities and knowledge in each subject area. Each student and his/her teachers discuss results and future learning goals and activities. This thematic unit ends with each student leading a conference, where the parent will be informed of the student’s present progress and of the learning goals and activities suggested henceforth. The teacher will participate when the goals are agreed on, but will otherwise stay in the background during the conference.
The underlying ideas are socio-cognitive, socio-constructive, and formative: If the student understands his/her results, goals, and means to get there, learning will be more effective. The reflective dialogue, a recurrent working order, and meta-cognitive thinking will have impact on learning.
In this qualitative study, students, teachers, parents, and school leaders from two schools have been interviewed in groups. The schools have practiced student led parent conferences for five and ten years. As when the method was initiated ten years ago, this project is a joint venture, the researcher and the participating schools cooperate. This makes the project innovative, even though the methods are conventional. The research questions address how the respondents describe the effects of the student led parent conferences, compared to teacher led conferences, on pedagogical planning, school results, and administration, and differences between the schools.
Important findings are that the student, when participating in student led parent conferences, understands, describes, and makes strategic decisions about his/her development. Formative and understandable documentation is imperative if the student is to be able to shoulder the attempted responsibility. These conferences are more informative, have higher pedagogical qualities, and will introduce a more egalitarian division of power, where the student, not the teacher, is an active subject. Teacher and parent roles change to be more cooperative. The results point to the necessity of introducing the strategy to new parents, and to recurrently inform and educate them over the years, to explain the value of the conference, and their role. The teacher’s ability to understand why different methodological steps are carried out affects how the conferences are carried out and hence the effects on student learning. This shows the importance of educating the teachers about pedagogical theory connected to the conferences. From a European perspective, student led conferences offer students, parents, and teachers a better chance to develop crucial information as well as superior education.
See slide show: Student Led Parent Conferences