Academic journal article School Community Journal

Student-Led Parent Conferences in Middle Schools

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Student-Led Parent Conferences in Middle Schools

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study examined the development and effects of school-wide student-led conferencing (SLC) at four middle schools across four states, namely California, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. All site administrators, 30 teachers, and 524 middle school students and their parents in 30 classrooms participated in this study. Methodology included student and parent surveys, teacher and site administrator interviews, and extensive on-site observations. Findings revealed positive effects of SLC at each site and suggest a ten-step process to implement SLC at a school site.

Key words: student-led conferences, middle school, educational reform, parent involvement, student engagement

Introduction

Student-Led Parent Conferences

This study focuses on the benefits and challenges of implementing studentled parent conferences in middle schools. The entire process of student-led parent conferences (SLC), culminating in the conference itself, constitutes an innovative school structure which may enable students to take charge of their education (Loebus, 1999). The process of SLC includes student assessment of what he/she knows, setting goals to move forward, developing strategies to reach those goals, and producing work products or performances indicating movement toward reaching the goals (Bailey & Guskey, 2001; Benson & Barnett, 1999). The culminating conference provides students the opportunity to demonstrate to parents and to the broader school community their academic mastery through performance or product. Sizer (1992) and Darling-Hammond (1997), among others, support student exhibitions and presentations as means by which students represent school goals and standards, and by which they demonstrate mastery.

Background

In My Pedagogic Creed, Dewey (1897) speaks of the need for the child to take responsibility for his/her education. He states, "To prepare [the child] for the future life means to give him command of himself " (¶ 6). In an effort to help students accept responsibility for their education, states have legislated benchmark and achievement tests. While such tests can foster external control of education, a true acceptance of responsibility for one's education and a motivation to meet and exceed the state-developed standards must come from within. Sizer (1999) speaks to the concept of "grappling" with information as a way of transforming facts into knowledge. He notes the following:

[Grappling] presumes that the student has something to add to the story?The information students collect can be scrutinized carefully by their classmates, their teacher, and outside groups, both for the way it was gathered and for what it means. (p. 25)

Tyler (1976) cited serious problems associated with conducting public education according to a rigid, delivery-style format. He stated:

What I remember from experiences as a pupil are the strictness of discipline, the catechismic type of recitation, the dullness of the textbooks, and the complete absence of any obvious connection between our class work and the activities we carried on outside of school. (p. 26)

He noted how schools accepted this inflexible design for years without scrutiny. The result has been to "perceive school learning as primarily depending upon the presumed ability of the student rather than upon the relevance and effectiveness of the learning experiences" (p. 21). Consequently, "inadequate educational achievement is ascribed to the low abilities of the children rather than to the probable inadequacy of the learning conditions provided" (p. 21).

Statement of the Problem

Currently, most schools use a parent-teacher conference structure as a communication tool between the school and home (Hiatt-Michael, 2001). In the traditional parent-teacher conference, the teacher, usually in the child's absence, tells the parent about the student's work. The child is seldom part of the conversation in the traditional conference structure and is given little if any opportunity by the school in any venue to discuss his/her academic work with his/her parents. …

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