Conferencing time is a stressor for teachers and parents. Be mindful, parents are sending you their pride and joy, and, in many instances, a child who can do no wrong and it’s your professional duty to let them know their child’s academic progress is not keeping pace with his/her peers.
Language is everything. Prepare for these meetings and maybe script them in your head or journal. You want to be calm, reassuring and you want to have a plan. Some call it is sandwiching. Begin with positives, share challenges, and end with a plan that gives the parents hope.
Using actual student samples that are proficient along with the work their child has done can help parents see and understand what you are telling them.
Parents can see the difference for themselves because you’ve provided a visual for them to compare. Record a proficient reader and their child, if reading is the issue. If it’s writing, the conversation may go like this.
Ms. Raider: Jenny is a hard worker. Her reading, being able to sound out words, is on target. Sometimes she struggles with comprehension questions that require the reader to draw conclusions, like this question here, but it’s only November and many of my students are still developing that skill. Developmentally, first graders are very literal. Her literal interpretation is fine. Do you have any questions about her reading?
Parent: I’m glad to hear that because I don’t think reading is a favorite thing for my daughter.
Ms. Raider: Oh well, I can give you some ideas at the end of the conference. I am worried about how she puts her thoughts in writing. I’d like to share a sample of her work with you, and I am going to share another student’s writing so you can see for yourself some challenges your child is having. On November 1st, our grade level team decided to give the same assessment so we could see how well all of our first graders are progressing. All of them read the same short story and all of the teachers have been giving instruction on how to write a complete sentence. After reading this story, we asked them to write about their favorite part. We collected all of their samples and sorted them into four categories: Beginning, developing, proficient and exemplary. Your child’s response was rated as Beginning because of sentence structure. We’ve been working on what makes a complete thought and that is a challenge for some students. You can see in the Proficient sample; the student is able to structure sentences that make a complete thought. What I need to do next is…
And you give details about how you will help this student improve.
Should you suggest things the parent can do at home. Absolutely. But you provide the materials or recommend free websites. In this scenario, since the student’s reading is stronger, ask the parent to have her read out loud and ask her ideas about what she read. Or after watching a favorite tv show or movie, ask questions or discuss story parts. Encourage the student to speak in complete sentences even in casual conversations. Writing is different from speaking. Remind the parent, if it becomes stressful, to discontinue. Learning should be fun. The point here is you have an instructional plan and the first sign of improvement, call the parent and celebrate.