I’ve been working on an article for PTA magazine about how to make the most of parent-teacher conferences. Just as I was putting the finishing touches on it I received an email from one of my son’s teachers. The email let me (and all of the other students’ parents and guardians) know that the class would be using a software application (app) called Seesaw as a way to keep us informed about what our children are doing in class. Seesaw is a student-driven digital portfolio; and when I logged on, I could already see pictures of some of the projects that the class was working on and specific pictures illustrating what my son had done. Along with the pictures of the class working and a picture of my son showing his work on a project, I could also see that my son had commented on an example of his work with his thoughts about the process and his teacher had responded to his comment providing feedback and encouragement. The site is password protected so that only parents/guardians in the class can see class pictures, and it is also individualized so that parents/guardians can only see their child’s specific work and comments.
The reason that I bring this experience up is not to promote a specific app or way of communicating with teachers. Rather, it is to help us think about what counts as evidence of student learning and how we can work with teachers throughout the year to support our children’s learning. In parent-teacher conferences, we have a limited amount of time to talk to our children’s teachers. During this time, it is important that we learn more about formal assessment data that can help to diagnose our children’s strengths and struggles as well as less formal evidence, such as teachers’ observations of our children and examples of their work, which can be used as evidence to help identify ways of supporting our children’s learning. As we wrote about in our article and as was written about in a prior Assessment Literacy Blog, there are types of questions that you can ask your child’s teacher as a way to make sure you get the best information to support your child during the parent-teacher conferences. In our article, we also provide some suggestions for ways of working with your children outside of school to help them strengthen areas in which they struggle and challenge them in areas of strength.
While parent-teacher conferences are a great way to share information about our children, they do not happen often and it is important that the lines of communication between parents, teachers, and students remain open throughout the year. As our children get older, giving them opportunities to provide evidence of their learning makes sense and can facilitate communication between parents and teachers. Using portfolios (digital or otherwise) and asking students to reflect on their understandings allows/requires that our children begin to take responsibility for their learning. Research tells us that when children are supported in being metacognitive (i.e., thinking about their own understandings), they are more likely to be engaged in their learning and that they have better academic outcomes. In addition, when students can pinpoint their strengths and struggles, parents and teachers can work together to provide resources so that address our children’s needs. Using digital portfolios and other online tools for sharing evidence of student learning can help to promote ongoing communication between parents, children, and teachers for the whole year as well as supporting our children in being self-directed learners.