It’s that time of the year again! The time for parent-teacher conferences. Conferences can be intimidating for both teachers and parents. Teachers tend to be nervous about conferences because they fear how parents will react if they hear something that they disagree with or might not want to hear. However, conferences provide an opportunity for teachers to speak with parents about their child’s progress and development in school. In terms of literacy, it is a moment to show the parent what the child is reading in school and the writing work that is being completed. Conferences also serve as a time to learn more from the parent about the child and learn about any new developments at home. Below are some tips for teachers about how to plan for conferences:
Before the conference, look through the reading assessments and the student’s reading and writing work. I suggest taking notes on each child so that you know exactly what you want to share with the parents. It is helpful to show student work so that you can support the information you are sharing about the child’s progress and development. If you need to speak with other teachers who work with the child, make sure you do so before the conference so that you have all the necessary information. Taking the time to prepare the materials and what you want to share will help you stay focused during the conference.
Begin with Something Positive
At the beginning of the conference, remind parents that the goals of the meeting is to share information about the student’s academic progress. Parents are proud of their children and do like to hear about their child’s strengths as well as the challenges that they are encountering. It is important to discuss both with the parents, but I suggest starting with the positive – it will set a more comfortable tone for the rest of the meeting.
Sharing the Child’s Literacy Progress
Tell parents about the books that the student is reading in school. If you use a leveled book system, tell the parent the child’s reading level and explain what it means in terms of grade level expectations. If the child has been progressing through the levels, make sure you explain this to the parent so that they are aware of the child’s growth. If the child is experiencing a challenge with regards to reading, be honest with the parent and share what you are teaching in order to support the child.
In terms of writing, share the writing genres or units that have been covered prior to the conference and then writing pieces that the child has completed. Clearly explain what the child is going well with as a writer. For example, is the child great at coming up with topics to write about and getting right to work? Tell the parent this information! Writing progress, in particular may not be as apparent to the parents. Then, share the areas that the child needs to continue to develop as a writer. I have found that using the student’s writing pieces to help explain growth, progress, and further development to the parent is very helpful because it’s a concrete example of the child’s abilities.
Provide Suggestions for Parent Involvement
Parents want to support their child and their academic progress, but they may not know what exactly to do at home to help their child with reading and writing. I have found that parents read to their child at night, but often do not discuss the books after reading together. Provide a few ideas about how to talk about the books that the parent is reading with the child. Talking about books increases engagement in reading and helps children make sense of what they are reading and supports their comprehension of the book. Also, around fourth or fifth grade, parents may back off on reading to the child at night and the child may read on his/her own. Encourage your parents to continue reading to their child, even when the kids are in the upper elementary grades.
In terms of writing, one of my favorite suggestions to give parents is to have a “written conversation” with their child after school. This does not need to be everyday, but once or even twice a week works. A written conversation is similar to a text chat, only you do not use your phone. Each person takes their own writing utensil and they go back and forth writing to each other. Sometimes children will share more through writing than when speaking.
Ask Questions and Then Listen to the Response
I like to prepare one-two questions to ask parents about their child. It allows me to learn more about the child’s interests outside of school and learn about anything new that may be happening at home. Some questions I have asked are “Does your child like coming to school? Why or why not?”, “What does your child like to do outside of school?” “Does your child enjoy reading at home?” “What types of texts does your child enjoy reading when not in school?” Whatever is shared with you, make sure you listen to the parent and try not to interrupt. The questions you ask can give you a lot of information that may be helpful in the classroom.
Photo: A Written Communication about a day at school.