My grades 9/12 ELA classes have just finished student-led conferences. For the most part, during the conferences, I am a silent note-taker sitting at a different table.
This fall conference marks the beginning of the second year with this group of kids, and the growth that I see in the ability of my kids to conference compared to last year is remarkable.
The biggest change is that all my kids are using their course’s indictors as their jumping off point.
Using the course indicators and the students’ various portfolios (my students use both on-line and paper portfolios as well as stations with items from other subject areas), my kids reflect on how they have met the indictors in a meaningful way(s).
It’s a spectacular process.
Last June as I was chatting about the growth of my SLC philosophy and preparing to write a blog post, I reflected with a retired administrator. Her words of wisdom stuck with me. “I know your kids have achieved the skills necessary to move on to the next grade, but are they able to clearly communicate these skills with their parents. Just because you know they know, does not mean the community knows about their learning.”
That was powerful, and it became one of my professional learning goals for this ELA year.
Transparency. But more than that, I want my kids to understand the language of learning.
I went back to the curriculum, to the Outcomes and to the Indicators and to my students. The kids and I have worked and worked on this process using the practice of student-led conferences we used last year.
From the beginning of the year the kids have a booklet of Indicators and are taught which indicators we are trying to master with each project. Mastery does not look the same for everyone, and here is where the beauty of the conferences comes in.
Each student was encouraged to reflect on 25% percent of the indicators (four conferences means reflecting on only ¼ of the indicators, a manageable goal). Not all the kids choose the same indicators! We like this. Many kids shared different experiences that helped them gain a level of proficiency with their chosen indicator. “You know, with CR9.1a, I was only meeting expectations. Efficacy and identity weren’t linked, well, not until we began looking at the school’s symbol, then things really made sense. Let me show you my journal entry…”
Many kids were clearly able to express their learning in ways such as, “I didn’t get it here, but later, when we were studying, or discussing, I had a deeper connection because…” My kids were able to share their ‘hows’ not only with me, but with each other before their SLC during practice conferences and with their key stakeholders during SLC.
Our SLCs sure feel like capacity building to me.
As well, our on-going reflection on our learning embraces the practice of Assessment for Learning. I want my kids to make meaningful connections with the world around them. Our course is a language learning course, a course that examines the power of language, theirs, others and our collective voice. It’s amazing what happens when kids actively reflect on how their connections move from surface level connections to deeper level meaning-making connections.
During conference I take notes. This is our first year with the students reflecting with their indicators as guide. During post conference, usually, the same length as the conference itself, I check in with my kids. Here, I find out what went well, where they’d like to improve. Here is the SLC stuff that I’m familiar with.
But there’s more.
I’m always learning from my kids and these moments offer the best glimpse for me, as educator, to listen to what I’m not doing well, and how I need to improve. Here is when my kids tell me.
And you bet I listen.
Turns out, I need to do a better job of teaching my current ELA kids the many different ways they can pre-write and the language of pre-writing than I have been doing. Ok. Noted. This week, we’re on it!
Our conferences are not easy. As a class we spend about six hours prior to each SLC in preparation. The time is worth it. For many of my kids, this is one of their only opportunities to shine in front of this specific group of people, and to shine where they feel safe.
So this week, we begin the process of figuring out what more we need. All but two students asked for longer conferences. But I don’t always control the time, and too, we’ll chat about why it’s important to synthesise as well as we do (isn’t there an indicator for that too?). Anyway, all of this will be a whole-class discussion. My grade nines’ fluidity between their language of assessment, process, product and growth was clearer than most of my other students, and this was their first time doing SLCs. They had nothing to (un)learn.
We’ll chat about that too…
We’ll begin to prepare for January, now, as we always have the Big Picture in mind. In both January and June, our conferences act as oral final-term exams. My ELA students find the preparations for their final exams more difficult than any traditional ELA exams, but the SLC ‘exam’ are also more rewarding.
In the moment, what other form of assessment and evaluation offers wonderment of how one’s learning might be different, tears of joy and hugs all around?