Let Students Shine: Student-Led Conferences Using Standards-Based Portfolios

Have you ever been so excited about a parent conference that you couldn’t sleep the night before? Did you talk with your coworkers about the anticipation because this is the day you have waited for all year? Let me guess – your answer is N-O!

Why Student-Led Conferences?

Parent-Teacher Conferences are not known for being very “fun” for anyone involved and typically are categorized in a negative way. THIS is why Student-Led Conferences with Standards-Based Portfolios have become a priority in our classroom. We, like many educators, had no idea there was any other way to have a conference until we visited another school in our state. Once we knew there was a more positive and effective way to share student growth and progress- there was no turning back.

What is a Student-Led Conference with a Standards-Based Portfolio?

So by now, you are probably wondering, “What exactly is a Student-Led Conference with a Standards-Based Portfolio?” Let’s take a moment to clearly define each term:

Student-Led Conference: This term is self-explanatory. Instead of the traditional teacher & parent conference with no student present, the teacher steps aside as the child shares their academic progress, growth, strengths, and goals.

Standards-Based Portfolios: The portfolio is a student binder, folder, or notebook in which the student collects “products” or evidence of their learning. Each product is strategically placed in the portfolio as a reflection of student knowledge.

Creating Standards-Based Portfolios

Step 1: Set-Up
It is crucial to determine exactly what you want your students to keep track of from day one. In our second grade classroom we begin each year with the following sections; Goals, Growth, Math, ELA, and Accomplishments. We divide each section with tabs that are labeled.

Step 2: Standards/”I Can Statements”
A vital part of these portfolios is having the standards accessible to each student. They will use the standards as a resource to track their learning. As students “master” a skill, they may choose to highlight that standard. Each subject area should have its own section, as mentioned in Step 1, with the correlating standards, or I Can statements made from the standards, placed within the section.

Step 3: Products
Products are the evidence to show student progress towards mastering a particular standard. Teachers may have predetermined items such as a test, rubric, classwork, or project that all students will use as their product for a standard. Another option is to allow students to consider each assignment and determine if it should be added to their portfolio. In our classroom, we send home a Tuesday folder with graded papers that parents sign and return the following day. Then, the student places the papers in the appropriate section of the portfolio.

Step 4: Personalize
It is your classroom and you have the freedom to decide exactly what your portfolios will look like. They can be simple with only standards and subject areas products. You may choose to add other data from progress monitoring, district assessments, or classroom goals (books read, behavior, math facts mastered, handwriting samples, art projects, etc.) It is important that students take ownership of their portfolio and often this happens when portfolios are personalized with products that matter to them.

How to Host a Student-Led Conference

The way you host or set-up the conference is up to you but here are a few key points to consider:

  • Have students practice for their conference with peers.
  • Provide a map, checklist, or a digital slide to help lead the students throughout their conference.
  • Do not interfere! Even if the students seem a little off track- they NEED to do this independently.
  • Have families stop by and speak with you at the conclusion of the conference. This will allow you to answer questions, collect feedback, and share any other information.

Why We LOVE Student-Led Conferences with Standards-Based Portfolios

Every single student who steps foot into your classroom holds the power to achieve greatness. We have experienced our students achieving greatness through student-led conferences. Seeing timid students speak confidently about their learning, hearing students communicate with families in their home language, and the pure joy on the faces on our students throughout the conference- are just a few examples.

Do you want to experience the anticipation that comes the night before a student-led conference? Do you want to speak with excitement and enthusiasm about conferences? The most important question of all- Do you want to see your students shine? If so, then go for it! Embrace the greatness that is inside every student in your classroom!


Heather Busha and Felicia Turner are second-grade teachers at Albertville Primary School. Together they have over 15 years of teaching experience. For the past three years, they have taught in a collaborative classroom. During these years, Heather and Felicia have grown as educators and continue to learn from their classroom experiences. These “co-teachers” are passionate about building relationships with their students, creating engaging lessons, believing students can achieve greatness, and striving to be a better educator than they were the day before. Let Students Shine!!!!

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