It is parent-teacher conference season in elementary and secondary schools. Although not everyone looks forward to this time in the school year, I love it and think it is one of the most important things we do in schools. We set aside an entire day to sit down to talk about student growth — not with ourselves as educators, but with parents and students themselves. We get to look at each other face to face and share feedback across the table.

I had the opportunity this past week to sit in on my first round of student-led conferences, a hallmark of many middle school advisory programs. To get students ready to lead a conversation about their work with their parents and teachers, we had them create goal boards. Each goal board had room for short term, long term, and ultimately SMART goals — measurable goals like “read one book outside of school each semester” that very often lead to goal achievement.

It was not easy for our students to come up with goals that were attainable in either the long or short term. Many said that they wanted to “get more sleep” or be “less distracted.” We helped them to think about how to get more sleep by getting homework done earlier, how to be less distracted in the age of distraction. In articulating how, they inched closer to making those dreams into realities.

In talking with students about goal setting, we used Jan Chappuis’ goals framework to direct them to think about learning goals rather than performance goals. Where performance goals focus on end results and grades, learning goals focus on growth and improvement. Learning goals answer the questions, “What do I need to do to get better?” “What can I learn from my mistakes?” These goals reflect a belief that persistence is necessary, as is failure. 

Chappuis offers educators and students a clear picture of what really matters when it comes to student achievement: optimism that comprehension can be built — and improved –over time, coupled with realism as to where things currently stand. One of the most challenging aspects of teaching and advising young people is that they are not yet adept at gauging their own performance. They can feel wildly overconfident or completely lacking in confidence in one or all classes, dependent upon perceptions that are not bound in facts.

I am convinced that the thing that helps students most to understand their own learning is simply working with them to think about it. Using prompts, visual aids, and examples, teachers and parents can really help students to feel better about where they are in their educational journey and in their lives.



Jessica is a doctoral candidate, education consultant, writer and editor. She is the founder of bookclique, a collaborative of English teachers and students working to promote book culture, and a co-founder of Well-Schooled, the site for educator storytelling, dedicated to sharing first-person educator stories. All Rights Reserved - What I Learned Today in School.