One Decatur school is implementing a pilot program to build student confidence by letting them become head of the class for a while.
Oakhurst Elementary is an expeditionary learning school that integrates multiple subject areas to allow students to investigate a particular topic in-depth to help students see the connection in what they are learning and comprehend broad themes.
Oakhurst Principal Mary Mack said students took another step forward on Jan. 17, when they presented to their parents in the school’s first student-led conferences.
“It is a way for the students to own their learning,” Mack said.
Instructional Coach Marcia Fowler said the conferences are part of City Schools of Decatur’s strategic plan and Oakhurst is the first to implement them.
“It promotes student accountability and responsibility for learning; it’s one of the research-based ways to promote student achievement,” Fowler said.
Each student at Oakhurst, which is a K-3 school, selected work throughout the year to create a portfolio with the help of their teachers. The work each student selected demonstrated a learning process they went through over a period of time.
The students then presented these portfolios to their parents during the conference. Fowler said each student prepared for their conference by practicing scripts and skills such as eye contact, clear articulation of ideas and presenting evidence to support statements.
“We want to get feedback from the parents because their view on this whole process is very important. We also want to go back and get some feedback from our teachers,” Fowler said.
Mack said last year Oakhurst sent a team of teachers, including Fowler, to a seminar in Kansas City, Mo., where a similar pilot program was being implemented. She said most schools using the program have at least two student-led conferences a year.
“Hopefully some of the other schools will say, ‘OK, Oakhurst has tried this and now we’re ready to take on this new initiative also.’ Since it’s included in the strategic plan it’s probably going to be something that will be required of each school within the next five years,” Mack said.
Before the school decides whether to have another conference in the spring, Fowler said it first needed to review all the feedback collected from parents and teachers.
“There are some teachers who are already willing to automatically say they want to do it again in the springtime but because it’s a pilot we want to make sure that it’s something done seamlessly and not too stressful for students or teachers,” Fowler said.
After the conference, parents were asked to give their child feedback. Mack said another important part of the process was giving each student a chance to give their feedback.
Both Mack and Fowler said the conferences wouldn’t impact student grades, they were just a way to build confidence and student achievement. She also said the school would still have the same number of parent/teacher conferences each year.
“Just like educators have to stop and reflect and think about the things that they did right and they’re proud of, we’re trying to get kids into that too…if you can get kids to that point at five or six, just imagine what will happen as they continue to grow in life,” Mack said.