TWIN FALLS — One-fourth of the school year is already over.
That means it’s time for parent-teacher conferences across south-central Idaho. In the Twin Falls School District — with about 9,300 students — it’s a student-led format where students explain their schoolwork to their parents.
“It’s a nice opportunity for everyone to pause and reflect on the student’s academic progress,” said Candace Wright, a math and science teacher at Twin Falls High School. She’s also an advisory teacher for sophomores.
During a conference, which typically lasts 15 to 20 minutes, students explain a portfolio of work to their parents and talk about ways they could improve.
In Twin Falls’ elementary schools, teachers help children pick out samples of their schoolwork. The resulting portfolio demonstrates evidence of their learning and understanding, said Briana Rieth, a fifth-grade teacher at Bickel Elementary School.
At middle and high schools, parents meet with their child’s advisory teacher instead of meeting with a teacher for each class.
At Twin Falls High School, students filled out a self-evaluation form on Monday for each of their classes.
“They’ll reflect on what they’re doing to be successful and what they can try to do to improve,” Wright said.
Teachers hand out samples of work to each student, such as a graded test or project, to keep for their conference.
“The advisory teacher takes a fairly background role since it’s really student-led,” Wright said.
At most Twin Falls schools, conferences run this week. Meetings are typically scheduled in the evenings, but sometimes teachers use their preparation period or lunchtime for conferences.
Some schools also extend their schedule on a case-by-case basis if parents aren’t available.
And for some campuses, like Bickel Elementary School, parents who don’t speak fluent English often require a translator. Conferences often extend for two to three weeks, Reith said, in order to accommodate translators’ schedules.
For teachers and students alike, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Students get Thursday and Friday off — Thursday to accommodate conferences and Friday for the end of first quarter.
Teachers have Friday off because they’ll put in long hours this week, Twin Falls School District spokeswoman Eva Craner said, but many work that day anyway to wrap up the quarter.
Parents: Here are five tips for how to make the most of student-led conferences.
Monitor your child’s grades
Teachers use an online program called PowerSchool to upload grades. Parents can log in to view their child’s grades throughout the school year.
Rieth encourages parents to be aware of their child’s progress before the student-led conferences. That can help with avoiding any unwelcome shocks when talking with your child’s teacher.
“Surprises aren’t always fun,” she said.
Communicate with teachers
Rieth said she appreciates when parents stay in touch throughout the school year. That includes giving her a heads up about things she should know about their child, such as: “In years past, we’ve struggled with this,” she said. “It saves time from figuring it out on our own.”
Also, if parents are in contact regularly with their child’s teacher, it allows for maximum use of time during student-led conferences. Then, conference time can be used for focusing on how to better help a student through programs like tutoring or enrichment opportunities.
Turn your phone on silent
Rieth suggests turning your phone on silent during your student’s conference and devoting your full attention to the meeting.
Keep your child on track
If your child is struggling to explain their work, Wright said, prompt them by asking if they have work samples to share.
Be aware of siblings
Many families bring siblings to their child’s conference, Rieth said. She suggests bringing a phone or tablet so they can stay entertained.
It can be hard to focus if siblings are being loud or disruptive, or getting into classroom supplies, she said.
To help, teachers try to coordinate back-to-back conferences for siblings who attend the same school. Many teachers also leave out blocks or coloring materials to keep siblings occupied during conferences.