Conderman, G., Ikan, P., & Hatcher, R. (2000). Student-Led Conferences in Inclusive Settings.
Intervention in School and Clinic 36:1, 22-26. Retrieved Oct. 3, 2010, from
ERIC database.
Introduction
Research on student-led conferences repeatedly supports their success for students with and without disabilities. Students are instructed in how to set and revise goals using a rubric. Valuable communication skills are taught as students learn to critique themselves and express their thoughts to parents and peers. This article articulates the procedures one school district has found successful in the implementation of such based on a variety of research.
The Project
Prairie Middle School in the College Community School District in Cedar Rapids, Iowa has used student-led conferencing successfully for five years. This format was adopted based on research which supported this style of progress reporting for all students. A 1994 article by Paulson & Paulson stresses the importance of portfolios in teaching students to take responsibility for themselves in the development of statistics to reach and set goals. “Recent research on portfolios stresses the necessity of student selection in assembling the portfolio” (Countryman, 1996). It also suggested improved complete and accurate information on student progress. Prairie Middle School found the research supporting improved information about student progress and enhanced student problem-solving development to be true for all students in their population. A greater understanding of progress for students with disabilities was found to be true as they referenced their Individual Education Plan (IEP).
Method
Student-led conferences using authentic portfolio entries include a variety of learning activities. Prairie Middle School uses five levels of involvement for their conferences with a student with disabilities. The components of the conference portfolio were specific to Prairie Middle School; however, they did follow a general format found in various models from other research on the topic of effective student-led conferences; academic, social, and personal reflection. Their format involved individual 30 minute meetings.
Results
The results of the student-led conferencing format were positive for both the parents and the students. Attendance at conferences rose from 35% to more than 90% during the last few years, and these numbers are consistent with current research on middle school student-led conferences. Over 90% of the parents were pleased with the student-led format, but some did indicate a desire to also meet privately with the teacher. The student-led conference is not intended to replace the parent-teacher meeting and teachers should respect the need of some parents to meet and discuss sensitive matters concerning their child. The student-led format also does not remove the responsibility of the IEP team in the process of working collaboratively to meet the needs of a student with disabilities.
Discussions, Implications, and Recommendations
The various divisions of involvement for a student with disabilities in the Prairie Middle School are (1) the student is an active participant; (2) student attends but does not make significant contribution; (3) student does not attend the conference, but is familiar with his or her IEP; (4) student does not attend and is somewhat familiar with his or her IEP; (5) student is unaware of conference and his or her IEP (Conderman, 2000). The components of the Prairie Middle School program uniquely meets the needs of its students as do the various examples from research, but all contain broader categories of an academic, social, and student reflection. The article by Paulson & Paulson describes a student-led conference format with stations. The article by Countryman &Schroder mentions a format of simultaneous 15 minute conferences in one room with the teacher dividing time between the groups. These include an additional post conference document addressing the five major student outcomes that are categories under which students assemble work samples demonstrating progress. The Prairie Middle School adds information about transitioning to the next grade in school and parent input before and after the conference.
My Thoughts
Student-led conferences have been the subject of research for grades K-12 for many years. Increased focus on middle school is understandable due to the nature of emerging maturity, readiness to assume responsibility for their learning, and the need to instruct students of this age to critique constructively. Student-led conferences are especially important for students with disabilities due to the need to have skills intentionally taught. This format also meets the requirements for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as it provides a report about student growth in the general curriculum. Providing frequent reports to parents is mandated by law, and as a member of the IEP team, the student in a student-led conference is taking ownership of his or her learning. The inclusion of students in the parent-teacher conference brings inclusion of a key link in the home-school collaboration. Focus during the student-led conference is on goals, responsibility and reflection. A portfolio of authentic measurements of progress directly tied to the curriculum is an important component of assessing the total child. Any successful researched-based program that increases involvement by parents, for students with and without disabilities, should be considered.
Connections to Course Material
The importance of effective collaboration with families is highlighted in Friend and Cook (2010). Barriers to collaboration can involve geographic, culture, and socio-economic challenges. Research supporting the increased participation of parents in conferences through the student-led format, would suggest greater home-school collaboration. Collaboration with families of students with disabilities has its own challenges which may be addressed in part through a student-led conference format. Students would benefit from learning how to establish goals and evaluate progress early and often throughout their schooling. This skill would be especially important for a student with disabilities as strengths and needs are determined. This is especially true for the middle school student who is entering adolescence. He or she will need to take a more active role in the transition between divisions from middle to high school as well as plan adequately for successful transition into the work force or higher education following years of secondary schooling. Practically speaking, the student-led format would allow a single parent to participate in the conference without the challenge of finding child care arrangements. If a language barrier exists, the student may be able to act as interpreter allowing for more effective communication. Involving parents in the planning and implementation of educational planning is required by federal low under IDEA, and student-led conferencing is an effective way to include the parents while encouraging students to take ownership for their learning.

Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot uses various vignettes to illustrate the welcoming atmosphere in a parent-teacher conference with the child in attendance. A student-led conference increases the atmosphere of parity with the focus on the student discussing his or her progress as an authentic participant. She stresses the importance of student involvement in matters that concern him or her. It is empowering for the child to gather evidence, develop the skills of documentation and discernment as they learn the art of self-evaluation through the process of preparing for the student-led conference (Lawrence-Lightfoot, 2003). Student involvement keeps the conference relevant, authentic, and centered on the student; important qualities for a conference as voiced by John Dewey in his 1897 work, “My Pedagogic Creed.”
References
Countryman, L. & Schroder, M. (1996). Why students lead parent-teacher conferences.
Educational Leadership, 53:7, 64-68. Retrieved Oct. 3, 2010 from
ERIC database.
Friend, M. & Cook, L. (2010). Interactions: Collaboration skills for school professionals.
NJ: Merrill/Pearson Education
Lawrence-Lightfoot, S. (2003). The essential conversation: What parents and teachers can
learn from each other. NY: Random House
Paulson, F.L., & Paulson, P.R. (1994). Student-led portfolio conferences. Educational
Resources Information Center. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 377 241).
Retrieved Oct. 3, 2010 from ERIC database.