A Case for Portfolio Conferences

Mom and student sit and discuss the standards for global and AP while the computer warms up for eportfolio

Mom and student sit and discuss the standards for global and AP while the computer warms up for eportfolio.

A night with open doors and grade books, parents cycling through to find out why their child got what they did in your class.

A dizzying array of “Suzy said” or “Bobby loves your class.” A veritable whirlwind of parents looking for more information or a famine situation where none of your senior parents show at all.

Ours is NOT your usual parent/teacher conferences.

At our school, we believe that a very important part of the equation is excluded from “Parent/Teacher”… the student and that’s why they are required to be here as well.

During our conference time, parents make appointments through advisory teachers (sometimes advisers don’t even teach their students in a major or minor class) to attend in a 15 minute block with their child.

Right now, you might be wondering what this all looks like, so I’m going to share the details and offer perspective.Our school works on an e-portfolio system. Kids are expected to upload finished work with a description of the assignment, any and all artifacts and most importantly a standards based reflection. Kids have choice as to what goes in for each class.

This is integral to the whole process. We work with our students regularly to understand the inherent connections in their learning and to think about the process. How did they learn what they did? What was the process? What did they learn? How do they feel they have done against the standards? Where’s the evidence?

We want to help students become cognizant of their own learning. This is essential to their continued success in life.

So at portfolio conferences, students come with parents to discuss what they’ve learned. The adviser is there simply to facilitate the conversation, not direct it or lead it. We set the student up with a computer and start with a question and let the discussion begin. Students are encouraged to show work and discuss learning in all classes, not tell parents what they got on tests or discuss grades.

We don’t believe grades are the whole story; the story is in the details of the process.

The conversations last 15 minutes (sometimes longer), but offer an opportunity for parents and students to have a dialogue about expectations and learning. Kids are meant to be accountable for themselves and it works, even if parents or students protest the process.

Don’t get me wrong, any shift away from tradition isn’t without its battles, but offering students a chance to be involved in the conversation, can only help students advocate for themselves in the future.

If we offer opportunities for parents and students to experience alternatives, then the shift could be facilitated more easily. How do you help create positive reform in your school?



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