Students, Teachers Collaborate for School Conferences Middle School's Effort Helps Build Children's Self-Esteem

Article excerpt

Byline: Bev Hoffman Daily Herald Correspondent

Getting kids to talk about how things are going in school can be a lot like pulling teeth.

Rooting out the information you need can be a difficult extraction, and in the end you're left with more gaps than when you began.

To remedy the situation, South Middle School in Arlington Heights has initiated a program of student-led conferences that provides students, teachers and parents with valuable insights into student performance and personal growth.

Students at the school began preparing for their student-led conferences in October. Working with their teachers and advisors, students put together portfolios of their work, reviewed and evaluated their academic performance in each subject, identified goals and developed action plans.

Activities culminated in late November with students assuming the lead role in conference meetings with their homeroom teachers, advisers and parents.

South Middle School Principal Sherry Dunn explains that student-led conferences are designed to give students greater control and responsibility over their learning at a stage in their lives when they are ready to handle it.

One of the key objectives of the conference format is to change the student from a passive recipient of information to an active participant with equal status.

"It shifts the student's thinking from 'OK, educate me' to 'I have responsibility for my own development'," Dunn said.

Actively involving the student in the entire process removes the secrecy and mystery inherent in standard parent-teacher conferences. Just as importantly, the ongoing preparations throughout the term promote stronger relationships between students and teachers.

Hannah Budzynski, an eighth-grade student at South, said she felt a little nervous about the self-evaluation process at first. Now, after having worked with each of her teachers and taken a realistic look at her performance in each class, she feels good about it.

"I got to know my teachers better," Hannah said. "The meetings let me ask my teachers questions that I needed to ask, but might not have asked on my own. …