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Assessment, Conferences and the Power of Partnerships

As we approach Parent Teacher Conferences and students and teachers think about progress made and areas of strength and challenge, I thought that it would be useful to speak a bit about how, as a team, our faculty support learners at Lang.

In addition to the informal and ongoing assessment that takes place each day in the classroom, on a regular basis, our teams meet to discuss students and to explore how we can best meet individual needs in the context of the larger learning community. The team membership varies by division, but in these meetings, teachers, specialists and therapy team members seek to develop the most complete picture of a student. We do this by drawing on the collective experience and knowledge of those who work with the student. This "portraiture" through multiple perspectives opens the door to the development of innovative strategies that draw on the lived experience of each of the student’s many student-teacher relationships. These discussions, while not only useful for addressing issues relevant to a particular student, often generalize to approaches and strategies that benefit a whole group of students. This leads to a deeper and richer educational experience for all Lang students.

This experience grounds the ongoing formal and informal assessment of student learning and growth and is reflected in the regular communications with your child’s teachers and therapists, on Veracross and in formal progress reports.

These communications are at once a story and an invitation to dialog with your child about successes and challenges to date and plans for future growth. We hope that these varied communications also make it easier for you to see the story of your child's school year as it unfolds. That said, to the extent that these communications offer a window into the daily school experience of your child, they should also be seen in the larger context of your child's potential for growth and change. 

It should be clear that assessment is an on-going process at Lang; it is a means to an end, but not an end in and of itself. Its aim is to improve student understanding of key ideas and skills and of themselves as a learner. Our teachers strive to develop assessments that are learner-centered and focused on student understanding in relation to particular goals identified for each area of inquiry. Rather than being separate from learning, assessment plays a central role in the instructional process. The assessment process also sheds light on which instructional strategies are most effective.

Through thoughtful assessment, the teacher gains critical feedback for choosing and utilizing those teaching strategies that can best help a learner progress towards the goals of a particular unit of study. Opportunities for meaningful assessment also allow students to gain deeper insight into areas of strength and challenge and allow them to develop plans to address growth in both of these areas.

The Parent Teacher Conference is an extension of these assessment activities and should be viewed as a dynamic opportunity to talk about growth and development. The Conference affords us an opportunity to reflect, applaud, and problem-solve with two of your child’s most important advocates, family members and teachers. These conferences should be approached with a forward-looking perspective. As prior performance is reviewed, all of the participants should seek to work together to identify strategies and opportunities for learning that will support the student's continued growth and development. 

Parent Teacher Conferences are an important part of the educational experience at Lang. They are important for students, parents/guardians, and teachers. Like all learning opportunities, the Parent Teacher Conference requires trust and a willingness to take risks on the part of all participants. While the conference may not be tension-free, it does provide an opportunity for inquiry and understanding. Here are two discussion ideas to explore with your child at home as you prepare for these important dialogues:

  • share with your child memorable experiences from when you were a  student and consider why such memories may be important to the educational life of your child

  • explore how you and your child approach the concept of learning and reflect on why looking at the differences and similarities in your responses might be important.

In preparation for these conferences, students have spent time reflecting on their work thus far this school year. With their teachers' guidance, students have identified areas on which to focus during the remaining portion of the year and, in many cases, have developed plans for achieving these goals. Here are some additional topics/questions that you might reflect on before and after your conference:

  • Your child's work habits at home—when are the most and least successful?Which assignments, or types of assignments, seem to lead to the most success? To be the most frustrating? Is our organizational plan working for your child? How is your child managing their time? When you and your child discuss school/school assignments at home, are there consistent themes that should be discussed at the conference?

  • Are there extracurricular commitments or extenuating circumstances that should be discussed at the conference?

  • How might we best support students to accept personal responsibility for their academic performance, to help students develop the reflective skill of self-evaluation, to facilitate the development of students' organizational and oral communication skills and to increase their self-confidence?

  • How can we build on a culture that invites students, parents, and teachers to engage in open and honest dialogue?

There’s no doubt that conferences are hard work, but the potential for learning that can take place when all participants commit to the process is clearly worth the effort.

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