The student's participation is essential.

Parents and teachers play a big role in the conferences that take place each semester at GEMS World Academy-Chicago, but it’s the students who truly run the show.

GEMS students at every grade level lead their own conferences by presenting a portfolio of recent work to their parents. The students talk about the discoveries they made while completing specific projects — what surprised them and, potentially, what disappointed them. Students also reflect on goals they’ve set for themselves in the past and share new ones for the future. 

The student-run format is favored by the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (PYP), which is the curriculum in place at GEMS World Academy's Lower School. We asked Eila Kvaran, the primary years coordinator and curriculum integrator at GEMS, several questions about what makes the student-directed conference format so powerful.

1) What is the value of bringing students into the conferences? 

The value of building a conference around students is immense. It gives everyone insight into the thought process of the child around pieces of work he or she chooses to showcase. The conference is a celebration of learning that provides students with an opportunity to take pride in and ownership of their work. It also provides students with an adult audience to further develop and interweave social and communication skills with the concepts and content our school immerses them in.

In addition, family conferences help give the parents an in-depth view into the learning process children go through — in the children's own words. Parents have shared with me how powerful it is to see their children in the role of presenter and how much they love hearing their children's reflections in a setting different from home.

2) What is the teacher's role in the process?

The teacher is really there as a guide or facilitator throughout the process. In preparation for the conference, the teacher may provide guidance to the child to help him or her build a robust and well rounded e-portfolio. The teacher may help a child choose products that best show a child's learning. During the conference, the teacher is there to prompt students, provide clarification or support, help students best express their reflection of their learning, and help them choose work artifacts that can best show what they accomplished. Teachers help students choose portfolio entries that document both the process of learning and the product, including images and evidence of students in the process of constructing meaning.

3) How are the portfolios used?

Every student at GEMS has an e-portfolio specifically selected to show progress and achievement. Portfolios show progress through the grades. The included work is a combination of student-selected and teacher-selected pieces, including student reflection.

portfoliopic.jpgThe e-portfolios are a dynamic way to capture and house a child's multimedia projects and assessments. With learning the way it is at GEMS, there is no better way to capture the richness of what our students are capable of producing. The e-portfolio allows us to include student pictures, videos, and tech-created projects such as My Story or iBook to truly capture and archive a student's learning over time. The e-portfolio builds from year to year and is a living document for families to see growth over the course of a child's learning at GEMS World Academy. 

An e- portfolio is designed to demonstrate success, growth, higher-order thinking, creativity, assessment strategies and reflection. A portfolio is a celebration of an active mind at work. It provides a picture of each student’s progress and development over a period of time as both an individual and group learner. It enables students to reflect with teachers, parents and peers in order to identify their strengths and areas for growth.

Evidence of learning in our e-portfolios are from a range of experiences and curriculum areas that can't be done with paper and pencil. The e-portfolio is used to show the development of knowledge, conceptual understanding, transdisciplinary skills, attitudes and the attributes of the learner profile that are the backbone of our school. 


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