• The Core Collaborative

From Student-Led Conferences to Daily Student-Led Conversations

Mary Jane O’Connell and Kara Vandas are a co-authors of Partnering with Students: Building Ownership of Learning published by Corwin Press.

Student-Centered Power

Student-led conferences are a powerful practice that empowers students to prove and explain their learning to their parents using evidence of their own work. Truly, it is a student-centered practice, but we as teachers must ask, how can we take this idea further? How can we empower students in everyday conversations about learning?

Based on the research of John Hattie (2012), we know that assessment capable learners are able to answer the following questions about their own learning:

  • Where am I going? or What is the learning goal?

  • How am I doing? or What is my progress toward the learning goal?

  • Where to next? or How can I deepen my learning?

In other words, assessment capable learners own their learning, their progress, and their next steps, as well as their conferences. We suggest one additional question that that gets to the heart of student-ownership of learning: What is my contribution? In order to establish student-centered classrooms, learners must understand how their role impacts learning for themselves and others.

Putting these questions together, we have proposed new model for student-led conferences published in Education Week’s Finding Common Ground blog April 2015 hosted by Peter Dewitt.


From Student-Led Conferences to Student-Led Conversations about Learning

How then can we transfer the powerful practice of student-led conferences into the everyday in the classroom? Research informs us that effective classroom discussion and feedback both have the potential to double the speed of learning for students (Hattie, 2012). If that is the case, is this the key to transform Student-led Conferences that occur a few times a year, to Student-led Conversations that can happen anytime, anywhere, and with anyone?

We believe it is an informed place to start if we want students to continuously reflect on their learning and own their progress. In the following chart, we have provided some practices that may be used to inspire everyday learning conversations.


Hattie, J. A. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on teachers.

New York, NY: Routledge.

O’Connell, M. J. & Vandas, K. (2015). Partnering with students: building ownership of

learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Learn More about Mary Jane and Kara's approach to student-centered learning this summer at MindFuelED.


About the Authors

Mary Jane O'Connell

Partner Consultant

With seven years of classroom teaching experience and over 20 years of experience as a building principal in traditional and large year-round schools, Mary Jane brings a unique practitioner’s perspective to her work with educators. Since 2007, she has served as a professional development consultant working with teachers at all levels, central office and building administrators, and departments of education in a variety of urban, suburban and rural settings. Her content area strengths are in curriculum, assessment, instruction, professional learning teams, and data analysis for school improvement planning and monitoring. Mary Jane holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of California, Northridge and a Master’s degree from the University of Colorado in Educational Administration.

Kara Vandas

Partner Consultant

As a consultant, Kara Vandas works with districts and schools around the country to implement processes and practices that best support student learning. Her areas of focus include implementing practices that encourage students to be partners in learning, the Visible Learning research and professional learning, EmpowerED Coaching™, EmpowerED Assessment™ and EmpowerED curriculum design™. Over the course of her career in education, Kara has worked as a teacher, teacher leader, trainer, and program developer. She holds a Master of Arts in Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Regis University and Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Wyoming.

#studentcentered #MindFuelED #studentledconferences #efficacy