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Portfolios and the Student-Led Parent Conference

EducationWorld is pleased to feature a variety of book excerpts in collaboration with Stenhouse Publishers. The following excerpt comes from Attention Grabbing Skills for Involving Parents in their Children’s Learning, by Jane Baskwill (Pembroke Publishers, 2013; distributed in the U.S. by Stenhouse Publishers). The book retails for $22 and is available on the Stenhouse Web site.

student led conferencesStudent-led parent conferences are becoming more popular with teachers who realize that the traditional conference leaves out the very person whose learning is being discussed—the student.

Portfolios of student work are the hub around which the student-led conference revolves; they can also be used as part of the traditional parent-teacher conference. For more great tips from this book, check out: What Did You Do At School Today? Get Great Answers and Use Social Media to Communicate With Parents.

Student-led conferences provide opportunities for students to present their work to their parents in an organized way. It is a time for sharing, celebrating, and goal-setting. Students of all ages can learn how to conduct effective conferences. One teacher found that, if they were given a little preparation, even five- to six-year-old children could share their learning with their parents. Proponents of student-led conferences say that the practice:

  • gives students the opportunity to demonstrate their learning and explain it in their own words;
  • empowers students to be more accountable for their own learning;
  • gives students a better understanding of their own progress;
  • helps parents support their child’s achievement in ways that are more individually appropriate;
  • gives insight into parent-child and child-teacher interaction;
  • fosters a deeper partnership between parent, child, and teacher; and
  • keeps the focus on student learning.

A learning portfolio is a systematic collection of student work that helps paint a picture of the whole child. The portfolio is dynamic and meaningful for students, teacher, and parents, as it reflects the process of collecting, selecting, and reflecting upon learning. Portfolios:

  • celebrate the student’s growth;
  • document progress;
  • showcase a range of work;
  • provide an organized sharing tool;
  • nurture students’ independence and foster positive self-image; and
  • encourage goal-setting and reflection.

It is important to start by explaining student-led parent conferences to the class and helping students understand the portfolio collection/reflection/sharing process.

  1. Explain to students that they will be keeping their work in portfolios and will be sharing this work with their parents at conference time.
  2. Put together a demonstration portfolio in which you have organized a selection of artifacts, along with your comments and reflections on each. Demonstrate ways to organize the artifacts using dividers, large envelopes, page protectors, a list of contents, etc.
  3. On the whiteboard or on chart paper, begin a list with your students of some of the items they can include:
  • Curriculum-based work samples
  • Drawings
  • Photos
  • Audio/video recordings
  • Self-evaluations/Peer evaluations
  • Reflections
  • Lists of interests and talents

About Stenhouse Publishers

Stenhouse publishes professional development books and videos by teachers and for teachers. Their titles cover a range of content areas -- from literacy and mathematics to science, social studies, the arts, and environmental education -- as well as a variety of topics, including classroom management, assessment, and differentiation.


  1. Add to the list over the course of the year. It is important for the portfolio to be multidimensional and to contain a wide variety of artifacts, demonstrating a number of different learning processes.
  2. Ensure that some class time (at least bi-weekly) is devoted to working on portfolios. It is important to ensure that the portfolio is continuous and ongoing, and shows development over time.
  3. Help students develop appropriate criteria for evaluating their portfolio. (Be sure to put criteria in kid-friendly, age-appropriate language.) You might consider criteria such as
  • Organization/Neatness
  • Visual appeal
  • Evidence of growth
  • Variety of artifacts
  • Evidence of positive attitude toward learning
  • Balance of process and product
  • Evidence of trying something new
  • Achievement of curriculum outcomes
  • Evidence of self-understanding
  1. Spend time helping students reflect on their learning. It is through the process of reflection that students come to understand themselves as learners. Students can share their reflections in small groups, with a partner, or in a conference setting with you.

It is also important to prepare parents to interact with their child during the sharing of the portfolio at the student-led conference.

  1. Inform parents about the portfolio process at a meeting or in a letter.
  2. Invite parents to be part of the process by explaining, just as you do with your students, the importance of the portfolio and its purpose. Explain that, by having students create the portfolio and prepare for the conference, you are asking students to consider their learning strengths and challenges.
  3. Provide parents with sample questions to use with their children.
  4. Provide an opportunity for parents to write a short letter to their children about their learning progress.

Whether you hold student-led conferences or stay with the parent-only conference format, the portfolio is a very important tool for demonstrating student learning in an organized and thoughtful way.


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