The best approach to a parent teacher conference: Key questions to ask for parent teacher conferences

With all the prep, thought, and focus that goes into getting ready for parent-teacher conference day, I sometimes forget, as an elementary school teacher, how challenging these conferences and conversations can be for parents. Especially in elementary school, when teachers (and parents) are still discovering what type of learner their child is, anticipating a conference as a parent can prompt feelings of anxiety, fear, hope and much more.

Here are some questions to bring to conference day. The following questions have language your child’s teacher should understand, and also push teachers to answer what can be difficult questions. If the teacher cannot answer these questions, we can help you consult the learning specialist or division director. Additionally, there is no guarantee that asking these questions will produce answers you will be satisfied with, but you will show that you are both informed and concerned about your student’s performance.

  1. What individual accommodations does my student have access to?
    Reason for asking this question: A learning difference diagnosis does not mean your child can’t be successful academically; it means they need specific accommodations and scaffolding to experience learning success in the classroom. Examples of learning accommodations include access to speech-to-text writing, or using a fidget to support focus, access to preferential seating, slant boards, special pencil grips, multiplication table charts and visuals taped to student desks, and many more. For an effective parent-teacher partnership, parents should be aware of the specific accommodations in place to promote a culture of transparency and collaboration on strategies to support the student.
  2. What modifications are you using to adjust learning expectations for my student?
    Reason for asking this question: First, it is important to understand the difference between a learning accommodation and a learning modification. A learning accommodation is an individualized scaffold (learning support) for a student to access the existing curriculum, which does not include adjusting assessment expectations or learning targets. By contrast, a learning modification is a deliberate alteration of instruction, content delivery, or assessment expectations to meet a student’s academic needs at that point in their learning development. A student who receives learning modifications should still receive the same general curriculum as the “whole class.” The learning goals should not change, but the learning targets in pursuit of those overarching goals are adjusted to reflect attainable achievement and to put the student in a position for success.
  3. In what ways does my student work with the learning specialist? Is it a “pull-out” model or a “push-in” model?
    Reason for asking this question: Typically, a learning intervention plan that involves support from a grade-level learning specialist follows one of two models: “pull-out” or “push-in.” The pull-out model means the learning specialist removes the student or students from the physical classroom space and homeroom lesson. The learning specialist, in this case, usually provides a separate learning scope and sequence that either reviews current relevant skills or reinforces prior learning needed for general classroom success. The push-in model means the learning specialist enters the physical classroom space and becomes directly involved in a small group or individual support scenario aligned with the lesson the “whole class” is receiving. Teachers and learning specialists typically collaborate to choose the appropriate intervention model for a student and consider how it affects their classroom experience.

Parent-teacher conference day can be a daunting experience for parents and families. Prepare talking points and questions before the meeting. Write down these questions (and others) and leave space to take notes. If you’d like your tutor to attend your child’s conference with you, we are happy to support you in this important endeavor.

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