Saturday, March 28, 2015

Parent Conferences: 5 ideas to make them a success!

Depending on the situation, parent conferences can be tricky.  Ideally they should be informative and constructive.   A benefit to all parties involved:  student, parent, and teacher.  However, they don't always work that way and an unpleasant conference seems to last forever.

Over the years, I have developed a few rules that I follow to make conferences as painless as possible.

It is important to have everything that you need for the conference before you begin.  Collect any data you might wish to share with the student's parents and have it at your fingertips.  Last year I used a notes app to input it into my iPad--right before the conference, I pulled up the data of the appropriate student and reviewed it quickly.  This year, I just used a large index card to jot down all the test results I wanted to talk about.  I also like to have selected student work samples in folder along with the report card.  I include any requests from the office in here (such as address verification, signature cards, etc.)  I will have the students organize their folders for me before conferences begin--this gives them a chance to see their report cards and the work that will be shared.  Which brings me to rule #2....

Parents, like most people, don't want to be surprised with bad news.  It takes time to process anger and disappointment.  If a student, a week before conference, decides to vandalize his chair, don't wait a week later and spring it on the parent as she is sitting there.  Send a note or call.   Make sure you have sent progress reports home (and received back verification that they have been seen--that is experience speaking there!!  I have been conned by many 6th graders in the past...the sweetest and most innocent kids in the world!)  Let's face it, a "B" might be a good grade in your eyes, but an unacceptable grade from the parental perspective. And there is no way of knowing that ahead of time.  If your students are old enough, showing them their report cards and having them share their grades with their parents is a great strategy.  I let my students know that the first words out of my mouth are, "Jojo Bear saw his grades--did he share them with you?"  The answer is almost always yes and for those parents who have been kept in the dark, they immediately steel themselves for bad news.

Make sure to find some positive things to say at each conference.  And for the negative things that you have to mention, figure out how to say it in a way to have the child move forward in a positive direction.  Jojo doesn't put enough effort into his work? Encourage the student to put forth more effort to produce work that is more reflective of his ability.  Lolo talks too much?  Suggest that by working on controlling her talking, she will be able to achieve greater success.  Or perhaps that while her talking doesn't interfere with her performance, the other students get distracted which makes it harder for them to learn--and Lolo probably never considered that.  

Whatever it may be, it is rarely personal.  I have had parents ask me "How many years have you been teaching?" (And not in a good and friendly way.)  I have been told that Jojo says the class is boring and  Lolo doesn't like school.  This past year, I had a parent question a book that I chose to have the kids read in class--an award winning book that was age appropriate.  The child had been reading it for three weeks and the mother waited until conference to bring it up (teachers don't care for surprises either!)  Years ago, a seasoned pro gave me this advice, "It is rarely about you--there might be things going on at home that you are unaware of, there might be long-standing educational issues that you didn't cause, they might just be people who are rarely satisfied."  I keep that in mind whenever I am faced with a difficult situation at a conference.  I listen to the concern, address it (if it is possible,) and avoid getting defensive.  Sometimes it takes all of my will-power to do that.

Sometimes conferences run long.  Sometimes parents arrive late.  Sometimes you need to rest and regroup.  Putting breaks into your conference schedule allows for the unseen to happen and not wreck havoc on your schedule.  I typically will do no more than 5 conferences in a row....that is one hour and forty minutes of being professional, polite, and informative.  Taking a break gives you a chance to catch your breath, stretch your legs, and clear your mind.

Lastly, if you can have the student at the conference, it will make a huge difference.  Sometimes parents focus more on what is minor to you...being able to have the child hear what you have to say allows you to continue the dialogue with the student in the coming days.  This isn't one of my "rules" because I can't control whether or not the child attends.....but I do request and hope for it.  :)

What else do you do to make your conferences go well?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Pi Day!


I own a ridiculous amount of "pi" shirts and look forward to this day every year.  (The fact that it was a once-in-a-lifetime one this year made it even more special.)
In the past we have measured circles to see that the circumference divided by the diameter does indeed equal pi (or close enough considering 11 and 12 year olds are doing the measuring with strings.)

But Common Core took away circles from me.  And I am so behind in math this year, I wanted to figure out some way to celebrate without losing a day of instruction.  Far too much time later I found Frequency and PI on TPT--it was perfect.  We haven't started our statistics unit yet, but I know that when we do, they will remember this activity.  The kiddos got to create a line plot of the first hundred digits of pi.  The instructional pieces were clear, the list made collecting the data simple, and the kids were completely engaged.

We took "pi" breaks and had "pi" moments throughout the day.
We watched this youtube video and sang this song a ridiculous amount of times (they loved trying to keep up.)
I told "pi" riddles (Why do bakers love mathematicians?  Because they have pi!) and talked like a "pi"rate.
I shared a lot of random pi facts.  One of my kiddos was "How do you know all this?"  I think he thought I was making everything up.
Finally, at the end of the day, I passed out this Pi infographic to use to impress their teachers next year and we enjoyed some pie while completing  a Pi Day poster. 

 It was an ePIc day!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Report Card Comments

The second trimester is over.  Parent conferences are next week.  And my report cards are finally done. Writing the comments on the report cards is something that I always spend a considerable amount of time agonizing over.   I figure I have written thousands of comments in my 20+ years, but finding just the right descriptors for each student can be a real challenge--words have such power.  I want to give specific information that can be helpful to my students and their parents.  My kiddos are old enough to understand what the comments on their report cards mean, and they read them with interest.  It is important that they have something to be proud of and something to work toward or maintain.  The ones who aren't working up to their potential need to know that I expect them to do better and that I believe they are capable of it.

I don't know about you all, but when I am stuck on a comment, I type, delete, type, delete, etc--it is so frustrating.  I will often head out to the Internet searching for inspiration.  Often I will come across the perfect phrase that gets me over the hump and keeps my finger from viciously stabbing the delete button once again. I wanted to share some of the comments that I have written this year, just in case any of you out there need a phrase or a paragraph.  

Here are a few (with the generic names of "Joe" and "Jen")--

Joe is a capable student.  When he applies himself, he can produce good work.  However, he has many missing assignments this grading period which have significantly impacted his grades.  Please make sure to check his student planner every Friday evening as missing work is noted in there on a weekly basis.  With greater effort, I know that Joe’s grades would be more reflective of his abilities.   In mathematics, Joe has greater difficulty.  He understands the concepts that he learns but struggles with retention and basic computation. He regularly receives interventions in this subject and I encourage him to spend extra time at home working with basic skills  Joe works well with others and is well-liked by his peers. I have enjoyed getting to know him.

Jen has continued to make good progress toward meeting grade level Common Core standards.  Overall, she has put more effort into her work this grading period and should be proud of her hard work.  In the area of Language Arts, I encourage Jen to work on her word choice and sentence structure to increase the complexity of her writing.  She grasps new concepts in math, but would benefit by developing the habit of checking to see if her answers make sense.  Jen is an active participant in classroom discussions and is a real asset to the classroom.

Joe has continued to make progress toward meeting Common Core grade level standards.  He enjoys learning new things and working with technology.  Joe has continued to monitor his understanding of new material by asking questions when confused and contributing to classroom discussions.  Completing work in a timely manner has been a greater challenge for him this trimester, and I encourage him to use his time more productively in the classroom and to spend extra time at home to finish assignments if needed.   Joe is well-liked by others and is a natural leader.

Jen has continued to make progress toward meeting Common Core grade level standards this trimester.  She has put forth more effort to complete her assignments in a timely manner, but there is still room for improvement in this area.  Jen would benefit by making sure to focus on instruction and to ask clarifying questions when unsure of a new skill or the criteria of an assignment.  She has made improvements in her interactions with other students in the classroom as well as her attitude.  I am impressed by her efforts.

Joe has continued to make progress toward meeting grade level standards.  He is an active participant in all many classroom discussions, and he is able to convey his thoughts clearly.  In math, Joe fully understands the concepts, but he would benefit by checking over his work.  He needs to be sure to learn the different procedures for finding solutions as he tends to rely on his exceptional number sense skills. In the area of reading, Joe still needs to fully support his responses with solid evidence from the text and clear explanations.  He is a voracious reader and his comprehension is excellent. When Joe puts forth effort to produce quality work, he is always successful.  I enjoy hearing his ideas as his perspectives are interesting and thought-provoking.

Here is the link to a few pages of comments.  Please feel free to use any or all that you find helpful.  If you would like me to email you an editable copy of them, feel free to shoot me an email.