Adventures in Parent/Teacher Conferences, Part 1 (of 3 we hope)

I’m tired. Parent/Teacher conferences do that to me. It seems like it takes a few days to recover. And my recovery days this time around were an all-day field trip the next day, an evening conference the day after that, and an all-day conference the following day (which was yesterday). So I’m still tired.

But as Mr. S and I sat there chatting in-between conferences, I told him about how impressed I was at the quality of the conversations he was having with parents (he’ll write to tell you how he did that), and I told him about my new trick that I thought made my conversations more meaningful.

It’s my ipad.

I bet you never thought that an ipad could improve parent/teacher conferences, did you?

What the ipad did for me for this semesters’ conferences with parents was this: I had my students’ papers all right there on the ipad, and as parents sat down across the table from me to chat about their students, I was able to pull up their students’ writing with my feedback all over it, and we could look at it together.

So when parents asked me about their students’ writing or thinking or frequency of conventional errors, we could look together and I could talk in more detail with the parents about really how their students were doing in these areas.

I loved it.

Now, you may think I could have achieved the same end just by having an actual stack of my students’ papers right there. Yes, I could have. But in that case, my students would NOT have their papers and I would and that is no way for them to keep working on their writing, right? Their work should be in their hands, not tied up in stacks on my desk.

And the ipad allows for this. Here’s how: my students draft and do peer revision in google docs since that collaborative piece works so well for peer revision and the cloud storage makes it possible for my students to access their work from anywhere really. But to submit their polished drafts for my review, students turn them in to me officially on From there, I can download all of their papers at the same time into my drop box account (this takes less than a minute). Then I can pull them into a notebook on my ipad (made possible by an app called “ghostwriter”) along with the rubric I use to respond to their work. I use a stylus to actually write on their papers (how old school, eh?) and mark up the rubric. And the moment I’m finished with a paper, I can email it immediately to the student.

The benefits?

  • I’m horrible at remembering to pass back stacks of papers and it always takes longer than it should in class. No need to struggle with this any more.
  • Without having to take the time to photo copy each student’s paper or waste paper, toner, and energy to do so, I keep a copy of all papers (with my feedback upon them) for my own access–both on my ipad and backed up as pdfs in my dropbox folder (because ghostwriter lets me do that). Hence, I can literally access a student’s paper form any machine hooked up to the internet, even my iphone.
  • In the past, it was always a real problem if a student lost a paper with my feedback upon it. This made it difficult for students to revise if they want to, and it was hard for me to see what was different in the paper if I couldn’t look at the original version. This is no longer an issue. If a student cannot locate the paper with my feedback in the email I sent to them, I can just re-send it!
  • No more stacks of paper to carry back and forth from school to home. Everything lives on this book-sized device.
  • Tons of real, actual, genuine student work for parents and me to chat over during parent/teacher conferences.

I’ve experimented with many different approaches for responding to student work–I’ve had students submit papers to me via Google Docs. This works for a lot of great reasons, but I always found myself wanting to just quickly highlight something or scribble something on the screen and the menus just took a bit more time than I wanted to spend. I used the grading functions in for a while, but again, my fingers were itching to just write on the screen rather than click a button and drag it onto the page and click again to open a comment box and type the comment and click save.

One drawback of my high tech/old school approach is that students on occasion ask me what my scribbles say. To which I respond, “what, you can’t read my perfectly legible handwriting?” And then we both squint and figure it out.

When I first got the ipad at the holidays last year, I stared at it for a couple of days in its box wondering what I would do with it.

Now I know. And conversations with parents at conferences are the better for it.

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One Response to Adventures in Parent/Teacher Conferences, Part 1 (of 3 we hope)

  1. Pingback: Adventures in Parent/Teacher Conferences Part 2- What Do We Talk About? | The Paper Graders

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