Tucked away by the corner of 7th and H Streets in southwest Washington, D.C., you’ll find a school hard at work to engage families in their students’ education. Jefferson Academy’s core values are grounded in PRIDE: Preparation for learning, Respect in words and actions, Inspiration to others, Determination to achieve, and Engagement in rigorous academics. As one of Flamboyan Foundation's Middle School Family Engagement Partnership (MSFEP) schools, Jefferson prioritizes the practice of effective family engagement so that students thrive. The school has PRIDE, and takes pride in their successful implementation of the student-led conference model.
Student-Led Conferences (SLCs) are opportunities for students, families, and teachers to discuss a student's academic progress and develop actionable steps for each person involved to support that student's success. Effective family engagement supports families to play different, age-appropriate roles during a child's academic journey. SLCs enable students to reflect on their performance in school, set goals for improved outcomes, and advocate for the support they need to meet those goals. By leading the academic conference with their families, secondary students are empowered to take ownership of their education, and become more independent, self-reflective learners.
The SLC model that Flamboyan supports was developed by educators at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS) in New York City. A study published in 2004 found that after at least two years of implementing SLCs at four middle schools in Washington, Texas, California, and Oregon, all schools saw improved test scores, decreased disciplinary problems, increased parent participation, and an overall positive school environment.
Student-Led Conferences (SLCs) happen three times per school year. The first round of SLCs in Jefferson Academy's 2016-17 school year took place on November 4th, 2016.
From February 21 through March 2, students and advisors spent 30-minute Advisory periods planning and rehearsing for the next round of SLCs on Friday, March 3, 2017. Advisors are staff members responsible for coaching students and participating in their SLCs.
In Advisory, students reflected on their progress and goals, and prepared to share their data, grades, and work samples with their family member(s).
In Ms. Alwon's Advisory on February 22, students worked on gathering their academic data to share with their family members. With the help of adaptive, online tools like the Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI) and I-Ready, K-12 students are able to receive customized evaluations of their literacy and math skills.
Students in Ms. Alwon's class prepared to present their assessment information by writing down their current scores, explaining what the scores mean, tracking their progress, setting new goals, and articulating next steps to achieve their goals.
Before photographing her students holding a heart sign with their SLC time, Ms. Alwon encourages them to say what they are excited to share with family members in their SLCs.
On February 22 in Mr. McKee's 7th-grade classroom, students worked independently to write out their introductions welcoming their family members to their SLC. Student introductions bridge the gap between home and school, allowing children to welcome their family members into a discussion about their academic progress, with the guidance of their Advisory teacher.
After determining how they will begin their SLC, students focused on data - like their attendance, behavior, or I-Ready scores.
During Ms. Douglas' Advisory on March 1, she posed this question to her 8th-grade students: Why is it important to set goals for high school?
"To prepare," a student replied.
"Right - to prepare," Ms. Douglas said. "If you don't set goals for yourself, then you don't know what you want to accomplish. Goals are just things you want to accomplish."
For 8th-graders planning their SLCs, the goal-setting component shifts its focus toward high school after students apply in the fall.
During a student-led conference (SLC), a student begins by welcoming his or her teacher and family member(s) to the meeting and explaining the agenda. Then, the student shares his or her progress in each class, using work products as evidence, and takes ownership of the grades by talking about how he or she will make improvements. In addition to providing an overview of his or her grades in different subjects, the student shares and explains the importance of other relevant data like attendance and character.
After analyzing his or her grades and other data, the student describes one area for improvement and determines actionable next steps. Then, the student, family member(s), and teacher work together to come up with action steps for the family member(s) and teacher, so that they can best support the student's learning and achievement.
Finally, the student concludes by giving the family member(s) an opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback, so that they feel empowered to offer support at home. To reinforce what was discussed and emphasize accountability, the teacher takes notes on each person's action steps, and the family member(s) receives an exit ticket to share feedback.
Student-led conferences not only empower secondary students, but also their families.
After participating in an SLC, family members understand how their children are doing in key academic subjects, and they have concrete steps they can take to support their student's progress toward their goals. By positioning students to take ownership over their schoolwork, SLCs also help family members feel more invested in their student's goal-setting, as they build the skills and knowledge to guide them at home.
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