I used to . . ., But now I . . .

I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.

In the last couple of years, relevance and curiosity have been key areas of focus within our school goals. We want students to know who they are as learners and how to move forward. We want learning to be relevant to their needs. And, we want the curiosity and interests of students to be a larger part of guiding their learning. As such, we have been seeking ways for students to have a greater voice in communicating with their parents about how they are doing and in setting their own goals. To facilitate that end, the Elementary School has made several changes to the ways we communicate with parents.
One change is the morning mixer. It is something that Early Childhood classrooms have been doing for a number of years and we have now extended it through out the whole school. During the morning mixer, which occurs at least twice a year, parents come into the classroom for about thirty minutes and the students share with them things that they are doing in the classroom currently. This might include teaching them math games, sharing with them some writing they are doing, reading with them their current literature circle book, or anything else. The purpose is to give parents a snap shot of what is happening in the classroom and allow they to see, from their child’s eye, how things are going and what they are learning. Getting parents in the classroom on a regular basis like this has helped them to better understand what learning looks like in the classroom.

The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.
-Carl R. Rogers

The second change is around our conferences with parents. For many years, we have had student lead conferences in the spring and we have written three report cards. We made a shift to only two report cards a couple years ago and with that shift, we recognized that we needed another way to communicate with parents. The first conference with parents is in mid October and it is only with the teacher. Then, parents receive the first report card just before the Christmas holiday and at the end of January, as a follow up to that communication, students lead goal setting conferences with their parents.
During the goal setting conference, students share how they have grown as a learner in several areas – math, reading, writing, units of inquiry, and skills and behavior. They share evidence of that growth with their parents and identify what they still need to work on to improve.  (You can see my daughter’s example above) Many teachers chose to use the thinking frame from Harvard’s Project Zero “I used to . . . , but now I  . . . ” At that conversation, with input from parents and teacher, students pick one or two goals on which to focus first, including the steps they will take to reach this goal and how their teachers and parents can help them. (see again another example from my daughter below) Later in the spring, there is a student lead conference during which students will have an opportunity to share again their growth as a learner, including how they did on a goal that they had identified.

Children have to be educated, but they also have to be left to educate themselves.
-Ernest Dimnet

Last week was the second time that I participated in these conferences as a parent and as a Learning Support Teacher. I confess that last year, I had mixed thoughts about the experience. I witnessed many parents and students struggle with their role in this process and how to communicate their growth or set goals. This year, my experience was completely different. I observed time and time again students take charge of the conversation and speak eloquently about their growth while sharing evidence of it. They were honest in their reflections of themselves as learners and able to choose totally relevant goals – ones that I probably would have choosen for them.
One student who choose as a goal that he need to work on his ability to attend to instructions, when questioned, was able to very clearly explain what happens in his brain that interfers with his ability to attend. We were able to talk about what strategies might help his brain to make the switch to attend. It was extrodinary to hear him articulate so clearly to his mom and teachers what is happening for all of us to better understand and then better support him.
I was also struck by how many students choose not academic goals like improve my spelling or reading level, but skills and behaviors for learning. Many of them had to do with picking a smart seat for learning so they would not be distracted, taking and asking for help when needed, improving their team member skills when working in a group, etc. It was striking because this is what is important to them and also, these more global skills will of course have impact across all areas of their learning.
I would be curious to hear from you how you are using goal setting conferences in your school and what your experiences have been. For me, it was so empowering for students to be driving these conversations and ultimately made the goals most relevant to them. I will be curious to see in the spring if this impacts the success of these goals.

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