Without Further Ado . . .

Students present a piece of work they select and reflect orally on their growth and learning.

Photo of James Fester
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A Game Anyone Can Play (6/14/2016)

With only a few hours left to go, I stumbled across this article which may help make this kind of idea more applicable to younger students. Using questions like these with the K-5 crowd may work well? Check it out and voice your opinion.


UPDATE: Film at 11 (6/9/2016)

Just added our pitch video which gives a great overview of the entire idea and how it relies on reflection to showcase student learning and growth. Take a peek and let us know what you think! 

UPDATE: We're In The Paper! (6/2/2016)

This morning the NY Times published an article by Dr. Monica Martinez that talks about how we need to get students more involved in the parent teacher conference! There are many aspects of what she says that are reflected in this particular project which is exciting. Looks like we're on the right track! The full article is reprinted below! 


UPDATE: Outline (5/31/2016)

Here is an outline for the entire idea that I've developed with the help of my team. 


UPDATE: A-Team Assemble!  (5/20/2016)

Had a great first meeting with a steller set of educators who are helping to evolve the idea and flesh it out. Many great ideas came up and they can all be seen on our group notes doc here;


I wanted to highlight one great evolution that Chris, our resident Human Design expert, came up with. In order to allow parents to participate in the process without hitting the students with surprise questions, the idea of a pre-presentation "gallery opening" was added. In this variation, all students work is display ahead of time and the audience is invited to give constructive and positive feedback to help prop up the kids. 

UPDATE: In Action (5/18/2016)

Tonight there is a community meeting about a charter opening that uses part of the process I've described here with their student presenters. I'll be attending and hope to share more after.

UPDATE: In The Movies (5/16/2016)

Recently I got to see an exceptional movie called Most Likely to Succeed which details the model for education used by High Tech High in Southern California. This model calls for a focus on process as opposed to content, collaborative learning focused around 21st century skills, and an end-of-the-year presentation to parents where students reflect on their growth, similar to what is being proposed here. 

I've attached this link to the movie's trailer, but if you get a chance to see it, please do! It'll change your mind about a lot of things! 


UPDATE: Shared Lexicon (5/13/2016)

A recent post by a member of the community (Thanks Thomas Gilliford!) has changed the direction I've been thinking recently. He said that if we are going to have students sharing with their parents, there needs to be a way to develop a shared language that they can both use. But how? Here are some early ideas, but I'd welcome comments on more;

- Use a rubric for the students to self-assess their presentations and make sure the parents get it as well.

- Consider printing their speeches ahead of time for parents to read or at least making them create a "pitch" so that the topic and tone of their presentation is obvious before the presentation.

Would love some more ideas! Please comment! 

UPDATE: Doc Update (5/10/2016)

I thought it would be helpful to post the contents of my doc which is now open to comments at the following links;


Overview: The purpose of this idea is to redesign the traditional parent-teacher conference. The traditional parent-teacher conference focus more on the interaction between the teacher and parent and less on the student. In many cases the student does not even need to be present in order for this conference to take place. This idea shifts that paradigm, putting the student in charge of reflecting on his or her own growth while the teacher and parent ask only guiding questions in order to probe for deeper learning.

How’d I get this idea off the ground: Originally, this model was adopted at Hall Middle School as part of a 7th grade 20% time project. Students completed a choice-driven, service-learning themed project over the course of half a school year and then reflected on their learning and growth at a presentation night before the end of the spring semester.

During this presentation night students discussed their project, talked about what they had learned while completing it, and then reflected on their growth as learners throughout their entire 7th grade year. Topics they discussed during this presentation included challenges they overcame, areas for growth that they’d like to continue working on next year, and examples of their improvement illustrated within the context project itself. Teachers and parents were allowed to ask follow-up questions only to clarify what the students had brought up. The result was students verbally sharing a timeline of their growth during their seventh grade year without feeling trapped, ignored, or put on the spot.

How you can get started:

Step 1: Written Reflection: To adapt this model for use in the context of a parent-teacher conference, students first need to be guided through a reflection by their classroom teachers where they consider their long-term growth as learners. this type of reflective writing fits well into the common core or most English language arts classes. The development of this type of writing, including editing by both peers and teacher, can take up to a week.

Step 2: Practice Presentation: Once they have written a solid draft of their presentation, it is time for them to beginning building out what they will be using when they actually speak in front of their parents. This may involve a slide deck, may also involve them taking images or excerpts from work they've done, but above all needs to include practice. Students should feel like they have a good handle on their presentations before they ever set foot on stage in front of their parents. During this time teachers should act as coaches, commenting on the evidence the students presented well also pushing them to think deeper and more critically about how far they have come or still have to go. This coaching is essential because students may be reluctant to discuss what they see as weaknesses unless asked to do so by teachers who put it in the context of areas for growth as opposed to failures.

Step 3: Presentation Night: The presentation itself can take place over one or two nights depending on how many students and how the group is split. Students get up one at a time, give their presentation, and then respond to a few impromptu questions by the audience.

Still looking for comments one . . .

Potential For Impact:

Value Prop/Pitch:


Materials to get this idea off the ground:

UPDATE: Connecting Great Ideas (5/10/2016)

A member of the community pointed out that the idea i'm currently  has many similarities with that of this cool TEDed model another educator has proposed! Check it out here by clicking THIS LINK!

UPDATE: Planning Document (5/8/2016)

I've had some requests for a basic outline of how a student-led reflective presentation might work and hve begun to build it out on this document! 


Feel free to look it over and give any feedback you have. Would also love questions to guide its expansion during this phase. 

Here's the original post . . .

“We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience.”                              - John Dewey

Many of the ideas in this ideate phase revolve around the replacement of grades with more authentic demonstrations of learning, and there are fewer authentic demonstrations better than self-reflection. 

This idea is a simple one; students should reflect often during their learn process to identify areas of growth, and this is exactly what their parents want to hear about and see. If they had a choice between being walked through a grade print out verses being audience to their child reflecting openly about their growth and struggles on a self-selected piece of work, which would they pick? Which would you as a teacher pick? 

Students will begin by selecting a piece of their work that they feel best symbolizes their growth. They will present this piece of authentic work to their parents, teachers, and community, but instead of discussing what content they learned, they will focus on their growth. What real-world lessons did they uncover? What challenges did they overcome? How did they move past failures or learning obstacles.

Having tried this approach myself I can attest that by the end of it students feel empowered, teachers feel proud, and parents are in tears.  

Evaluation results

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Join the conversation:

Photo of Ellen Deutscher

Yes, yes!! I soooo agree with you on the value and power of self-reflection and love using this as a way to communicate this learning to parents and learning community.  This shows value placed on learning and growth rather than "just the grade" or what assignments are missing.  I have seen so many conferences fall down that path.  Can you explain more about how you did this?  How did you prep students/parents for this "different" kind of experience?  If this is the norm for your classroom community, how could you guide others to move towards this kind of reflection with their students and parents?  Happy to help as you continue to build on your idea.

Photo of James Fester

Hey Ellen,

 Thanks for the reply. This type of "public reflection" is something we're just starting to play with at our school and have only tried it in small-scale with a single class. It's kinda like a performance night in the sense that students prepare their piece, their presentation, and then they reflect on what they have done/learned over the course of their year.

It usually takes place in May after school hours so parents can attend (we also record them for those who can't) and although its student-driven, we the teachers ask them probing questions after they give the prepared part. We prep students in class by giving them feedback on their presentation outline and coach them in what we've seen as far as growth goes versus what they have seen. We tell the parents very little other than their student will be talking about their year at our school within the context of a project (we're a PBL school) 

The first thing people would have to accept if they wanted to try and adopt this model is that the days of standardized tests and grades as the only indicators of student growth are dead. We're past that and so you have to get into the mindset that if you truly want a holistic view of your child's growth as a students and person then this will work well. It works very well with schools that have a student portfolio system as the students can select from that. 

I think the next step would be to build a pacing guide for the event so that schools and teachers get an idea of what it takes to make this happen. Thoughts so far?

Photo of James Fester

I just thought of one more thing. Our school did this in the context of a service learning project. Not sure if that is uber-important, but its good to keep in mind as the students were able to reflect on what they did for others (empathy part of design thinking)

Photo of Ellen Deutscher

I'm glad your school is in a place where the days of grades and standardized tests are the only indicators of growth are dead.  Fortunately more and more schools are moving in this direction.  I like the idea of a pacing guide and also wonder if this can also be tried out on a smaller scale within the classroom?  

Photo of James Fester

Absolutely. Actually trying this in my own classroom was where I first got the idea. My collaborative teaching partner and shared a 7th grade core and did a "20%" time project with the students where they had to reflect on their growth at the end. The presentation and reflections were done in front of their parents and the school board and despite it being the first time our district has ever done something like this it went off very well. The students all commented authentically on their growth throughout the entire year based on prompts we gave them which they were free to choose from so they felt as thought they controlled the process from beginning to end.

Photo of James Fester

Oh yeah, and one more thing I forgot to mention. The students were also coached in class by their teacher before hand so when they went up to present the reflection was polished. When the student went up from the presentation, they gave their practiced portion and we followed up with impromptu questions that were clarifying in nature only and used just to make sure they didn't feel "put on the spot" but to give them the experience of in the moment thinking and further reflecting. 

Photo of Maria Singman

Reflection is incredibly important at any age! As educators, we also need to take time to reflect on our practice.  Random aside: I run a TEDxyouthday event at my school where 1st-8th grade students are the speakers.  They come up with their own "TED talk idea" and then work for a whole semester to polish it. They memorize it, critique one another, and most importantly reflect on the whole process.  If anyone wants to start a TEDxYouthDay event at their school please feel free to email/message me. I want to get more involved on this site. I love the great work everyone is doing and can always use more positive educators in my life.  :)

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