You know the drill.
Parent sits down for a conference at parent/teacher conferences.
You pull up your grade records for the student.
You walk the parent through the grade data, pointing out what the student is doing well and what the student needs to work on.
You ask the parent/s what questions they have.
You talk for a few minutes about the class and what everyone’s working on and what’s coming up.
The timer goes off (we’re supposed to use timers to keep conferences moving) and you shake hands and ask the parent to keep in touch and then the next parent sits down.
Rinse and repeat.
It’s been a few years since I’ve taken that approach–but it is the approach I used for conferences for many many years. I’ve been really trying to make conferences a space for a different kind of conversation. Jay stopped opening up the grade book in conferences a few years ago in favor of notes about each student’s reading/writing progress on a roster that he would use to jog his memory for descriptions of the student’s work and progress. And around that same time, I started reading to parents the first paragraph of a student’s most recent piece of writing in conferences so we could actually look at the student’s work together and talk about it (turns out a lot of high school students don’t show their parents what they’re writing for language arts!).
But this year, I tried something very simple to start the conversation that yielded shifted my conversations with parents toward information that will be really helpful:
“Tell me about your kid.”
That’s it. “Tell me about your kid. Tell me what I need to know about your student as a reader and a writer. Tell me about your kid’s history in language arts.”
And then I listened.
The stories I got. The things I learned. The strategies I collected–all so valuable. I know my students better. I have plans for inspiring them. I have insight into their past struggles so I know better where to support them, where to be flexible, where to nudge them to do more. I know about past successes so I can help students build on them.
I did some talking too. I shared a few awesome pieces of writing with parents, pieces of writing they had not yet seen. I told stories about how awesome their kids are in my classroom community. I connected with parents as co-members of the village of support around their students.
We’re all in this together, people.
If I get only three to five minutes with each parent or set of parents, why would I spend that time doing anything but finding out everything I can about my students from the people who know them best?
And why did it take me 21 years of parent/teacher conferences to figure this out?
I’ve stopped grading, and now that I’m not focused on the points, the grades, and justifying those points and grades, a whole different universe of possibilities has become visible.
I was at school for 13 hours today, and the schedule is the same tomorrow for another night of conferences. I’m tired and I need to sleep but I’m energized. I feel connected to the network of people who care most about the students who bring life into my classroom each day.
I’m full of gratitude.
This is the eleventh post in a series about not grading in the high school language arts classroom.
This blog series will chronicle my journey through the 2016 fall semester using non-traditional approaches to grading, the thinking process I go through with my students, the steps we take along the way. I’m doing this for entirely selfish reasons–I want to capture it as clearly as I can, which will make it all work better for my students and me. I hope that being along for the journey will help you think about your classroom too.
Please check out this folder –it already contains some of the key documents about non traditional grading out of my classroom, and this is where I will store any documents I create or revise during this semester’s journey.