Don’t underestimate students’ ability to reflect on their own work

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School becomes “personalized” when students take ownership of their learning – they set their own goals and figure out how to meet them. One way that happens is in “student-led conferences” in which students meet with an adviser, their parents, and sometimes another guest, like a teacher or mentor, to reflect on their classwork and set short- and long-term goals.

Ed Week reported that student centered conferences are a way to keep students accountable for their work, help them understand their own strengths and weaknesses, and to give them a chance to talk openly about their goals and dreams. It also gives them the deeper learning skills they need to succeed in 21st century life:

These [student-led conferences] showcased the metacognitive skills that students develop in an integrative, project-based model. Teachers press their students not only to do quality work but also to reflect on their experiences, analyze their work, and assess their own progress. Students regularly think about their own thinking. They come to learn deep truths not only about the content of their projects, but also about their own inner constitution. Insightful metacognition is a skill to be mastered and as with all skills it improves through practice. My seniors have been practicing, and it shows. Their experience with deeper learning has given them insights into their own self that better enable them to chart a successful path in life.

The 21st century economy is in many ways predicated on specialization–complex marketplaces and complex technologies necessitate collaboration by disparate groups. If our students are to be specialists, then they must be armed with precise knowledge about their own abilities. For an individual student to understand if a certain role is a good fit, she must understand both the role and herself. We must prepare our students to recognize their personal challenges and particular gifts. We must give them the metacognitive tools to position themselves in a complicated world. My first[student-led conferences] have shown me that we can give all students these tools, regardless of their self-perceived academic ability.

Pittsfield Middle High School, which has fully implemented a student-centered learning model, uses student led conferences as a way to engage parents and empower students. Parents, students, and even the advisers find the conferences invaluable:

“We’ve learned more about the processes of his work than just what his grades are. We’ve learned how he gets there, how he gets to the answers… how he does the learning, what works for him,” Norm, parent of 11th grade student

“I’ve learned my learning style, and being able to present makes it more solid,” Sarah, 11th grader

“I know so many of my students that much better having gone through the process of talking about what their hopes and dreams are, what they need to do to make sure they’re prepared for post-secondary life,” Derek Hamilton, teacher

As a result of the conferences, Superintendent John Freeman said that Pittsfield’s attendance rates have increased and their dropout rates have decreased in a great video about the programs that can be found here.