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Students' perceptions of student-led conferences.


The study participants consisted of 21 fourth grade students at a private Catholic school who participated in student-led conferences for the first time. Students' perceptions of their goal setting effort on self-regulated learning were assessed through the student-led conference format. Findings revealed positive perceptions of goal setting on classroom performance in the initial stages of learning as students perceived they achieved better academically when they set their own goals but they exerted less effort in achieving their own goals versus those set by their teachers.


In traditional teacher-centered classrooms, students have been offered little if any opportunity to participate in the decision-making process regarding their academic instruction. As a result, students often become dependant on the classroom teacher to develop their academic goals and rarely acquire self-regulated learning strategies. Within the past three decades, constructivism has taken center stage in many American schools as it has become increasingly apparent that a more student-centered approach to teaching has exceptional advantages in overall student achievement. This student-centered approach has also extended beyond the classroom learning environment into what has been traditionally known as the parent-teacher conference. In light of the constructivist movement, many schools are adopting the "student-led" conference format in hopes of developing students into self-regulated learners. Utilizing the student-led conference model, teachers are able to scaffold students in setting their own learning goals which may be a key to increasing achievement, accountability, and skills that will be needed as lifelong learners (Fuchs et al, 2003; McDonald & Boud, 2003; Palmer & Wehmeyer, 2003). Little data exists on this growing trend towards student-led conferences, and almost none exists that explores the students' perspectives regarding their changing role in the conference procedure. The purpose of the current action research study was to explore students' perceptions of student-led conferences and the significance of student-set goals versus teacher-set goals on the learning processes.

What Are Student Led Conferences?

In the traditional parent-teacher conference, parents and teachers meet to discuss a student's academic achievement usually without the student present. Student-led conferences, however, include students in the forum, often asking them to act as the leader of the meeting, thereby creating a nurturing environment in which they become excited about sharing their academic achievements and goals with their parents (Countryman & Schroeder, 1996; Tuinstra & Hiatt-Michael, 2004). In preparation for these conferences, students actively participate in setting their own learning goals, thereby shifting the responsibility for the student's academic performance to themselves. Teachers and parents who have participated in student-led conferences report no desire to return to the traditional parent-teacher forum. After the implementation of student-led conferences, parental attendance increased, and both parents and teachers indicated a greater likelihood to initiate future contact throughout the school year (Hackmann, 1996).

Motivation & Student Set Goals

Significant research suggests that the degree of success a student experiences in their efforts towards achieving self-regulation through individual goal setting is largely influenced by the cognitive processes of motivation and self-efficacy. It is for this reason that it is important for students to engage in academic experiences such as student-led conferences that foster both their intrinsic motivation and their sense of self-efficacy (Brtek, & Tosi, 2003; Callahan, Brownlee Zimmerman, Bandura, & Martinez-Pons, 1992). Student-led conferences may also provide an environment in which teachers are able to model effective goal setting strategies. This modeling of goal setting is crucial as students make the transition from operating under response dependent contingencies to becoming self-regulated learners (Kelley & Stokes, 1984).

When students set their own goals, and are engaged in the goal-setting process, they have the opportunity to reflect on their experiences and develop a higher level of understanding regarding the importance of the activity and how it applies to the attainment of their individual learning goals. Some research supports metacognitive theory, suggesting that students are better equipped than parents or teachers to set realistic goals for themselves (Hannafin, 1981; Palmer & Wehmeyer, 2003; Tuinstra & Hiatt-Michael, 2004). While teachers and parents set learning goals for students, students indicate that they are able to achieve greater levels of academic success when they are empowered to set their own learning goals. This self-regulated learning produces high self-efficacy in students which in turn leads students to set, and attain, more challenging goals, and ultimately improves classroom performance (Borba & Olvera, 2001).


To measure students' perceptions of goal-setting and self-regulated learning, one fourth grade classroom consisting of 21 students (14 girls and 7 boys) who participated in their first goal-setting process and student-led goal-setting conference were chosen for this study. The students' ages ranged from 9-10 years of age. The students in this fourth grade class set their own learning goals, completed self-evaluation forms for each subject area, selected material for their portfolios, and participated in student-led conferences.

The School

The school is a suburban, parochial school located in the southwestern suburbs of a major metropolitan area in the Midwest. The surrounding town consists of mainly white, middle to upper-middle class families. The school has been conducting student-led conferences for 4th - 8th grade students' for the past four years. However, prior to this study, little data has been collected to determine the effectiveness of these conferences, let alone the students' perceptions of their effectiveness.


In order to measure students' personal beliefs about student-led conferences, goal development, and self-regulated learning, the students were asked to provide demographic information (age, sex, and years of attendance) as well as to complete the following attitudinal questionnaire. The Student Goal Survey (SGS): a 14-item Likert-type instrument designed to measure students' perceptions of the student-led conference and their attitudes toward goals developed by teachers and themselves. The SGS consists of a combination of items from the Student Affect Scale (Tuinstra, & Hiatt-Michael, 2004), and Student Efficacy Scale (Zimmerman, Bandura, & Martinez-Pons, 1992). Item responses were based on a four-point rating scale ranging from 1 (Almost Never) to 4 (Almost Always). Examples of attitudinal survey items are: "I feel I am a better student because I set my own goals", "I feel my class work is better because I participate in student-led conferences", and "I feel my work is better because I review and edit it". To determine the affect of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation on goal-setting, students were asked to respond to three questions: the students scored their responses on a comparison scale ranging from 1 (Not Hard) to 3 (Hard).


Student Goal Setting and Academic Performance

The response percentages of the students are displayed in Tables 1-3. The results of Table 1 show a positive student perception of the influence of self-set goals on academic understanding. As indicated, 76% of the students in this study felt that setting their own goals made them, usually, or almost always, better students. This demonstrates how important goal setting is for student achievement and self-efficacy. See issue website win2006.htm However, an unexpected finding indicates that the students did not feel that reflection enhanced the quality of their work, and only 33% indicated reflection to be useful at least some of the time. Given the mixed response to this question and the uncertainty expressed about the meaning of "reflection" while the survey was being administered, it is in the opinions of the researchers that the students may not have understood this question and additional research in this area is needed.

Students' Perceptions of Student-Led Conferences

As shown in Table 2, the majority of the students (57%) indicated feelings of pride in sharing their work with their parents during student-led conferences. The overall perceptions of the students show that they enjoyed conducting the conferences and that their work has improved (85%) because of the student-led conferences. These positive perceptions regarding the student-led conference model may support theories that see this new conference model as increasing student sell-efficacy. See issue website

Teacher-Set or Student-Set Goals?

In addition to the assessment of students' perceptions of the student-led conference, students were presented with a series of three independent and three comparison questions to determine whether they perceived teacher-set goals or self-set goals to be more challenging. When asked about the level of effort students exerted towards achieving teacher-set or self-set goals, conflicting results were revealed. As displayed in Table 3, the participants indicated that they did not work as hard on their individual set goals as they did on their teacher set goals. Even though the participants in this study set their own goals, the survey results may suggest that extrinsic motivational factors influence the students to achieve higher levels of academic success. These results seem to contradict research that maintains students will work harder to achieve goals they set themselves (Tuinstra, & Hiatt-Michael, 2004). See issue website AEQweb/win2006.htm


The results of the current action study indicate that students perceive the student-led conference format to be beneficial. However, extrinsic teacher-set goals are more influential than their own intrinsic self-set goals in establishing a goal-setting agenda toward their academic progress. Students in the current study perceived higher achievement when they set their own goals, but also admitted that they set less demanding goals than their teachers. Students self-reported data strongly points to the need for teachers to provide positive dialogue about the importance of developing intrinsic motivation and the worth of establishing challenging student-set goals. Goal concordance, which is the degree to which goals serve the intrinsic needs of the individual (Durik & Harackiewicz, 2003) may be another factor worth examining. Further research should be done to determine whether the contradictions found in this study are due to outside influence which could result in students' perceiving teacher-set goals as more worthwhile.


The present study was designed to contribute to the goal setting and motivation literatures because research has not examined the perceptions of students in regards to the student-led conference format in improving student learning and motivating them to achieve their own learning goals. Upon first glance, the findings of the current research study may appear to suggest that the self-regulatory goal-setting strategies of the student-led conference may have little influence on the effort students place on their individual set goals. A common belief of researchers in the goal setting literature is that intrinsic motivational factors have the greatest effect on a student's classroom performance (Callahan, Brownlee, Brtek, & Tosi, 2003). Overall, the participants of the current study indicate they are better students because they are empowered by their school community to set their own goals, however, extrinsic factors seem to play a greater role in the amount of effort the participants put forth in accomplishing their goals. While a significant percentage of students may "perceive" they exert more effort toward teacher-set goals than their own goals, developmentally these findings are supported by what is already known about the emergence of self-regulated learning in the elementary grades. Few elements of self-regulated learning emerge in the upper elementary grades, and additional ones such as planning and self-motivation are more common in middle school and high school (Paris & Paris, 2001).

In fact, the students in this study are participating in their first student-led conference. The students perceptions of working harder on teacher-set goals may be more related to the unconscious processes of self-regulation that have yet to become apparent to the learner. The participants may be extrinsically motivated to accomplish the goals set forth by their teachers because of the inability to set self-imposed contingencies or the inability to assess their own management practices at this age. The results of this study highlights the need for continued teacher and parent support of student efforts to achieve the levels of intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy necessary for the self-regulated learning processes involved in goal setting and student-led conferences. Through the continued support of the classroom teacher in modeling appropriate goal-setting practices and with continued experience in the student-led conference format, students may develop greater self-regulatory behaviors then through traditional parent-teacher practices of the past.


Borba, J. A., Olvera, C. M. (2001). Student-Led Parent-Teacher Conferences. Clearing House. 74:6, 333-36.

Callahan, J. S., Brownlee, A. L., Brtek, M. D., & Tosi, H. L. (2003). Examing the unique effects of multiple motivational sources on task performance. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 33(12), 2515-2535.

Countryman, L.L., & Schroeder, M. (1996). When Students Lead Parent-Teacher Conferences. Educational Leadership, 53(7), 64-68.

Durik, A. M. & Harackiewicz, J. M. (2003). Achievement goals and intrinsic motivation: Coherence, concordance, and achievement orientation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 39, 378-385.

Fuchs, L. S., Fuchs, D., Prentice, K., Burch, M., Hamlett, C. L., Owen, R., & Schroeter, K. (2003). Enhancing third-grade students' mathematical problem solving with self-regulated learning strategies. Journal of

Educational Psychology, 95(2), 306-315.

Hackmann, D. G. (1996). Student-Led Conferences at the Middle Level: Promoting Student Responsibility. NASSP Bulletin, 80, 31-36.

Hannafin, M. J. (1981). Effects of teacher and student goal setting and evaluations on mathematics achievement and student attitudes. Journal of Educational Research, 74(5), 321326.

Kelley, M. L. & Stokes, T. F. (1984). Student-teacher contracting with goal-setting for maintenance. Behavior Modification, 8,223-244.

McDonald, B., & Boud, D. (2003). The impact of self-assessment on achievement: The effects of self-assessment training on performance in external examinations. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 10(2), 209-220.

Palmer, S. B., & Wehmeyer, L. (2003). Promoting self-determination in early elementary school: Teaching self-regulated problem-solving and goal-setting skills. Remedial & Special Education, 24(2), 115-126.

Paris, S. G. & Paris, A. H. (2001). Classroom applications of research on self-regulated learning. Educational Psychologist, 36, 89-101.

Santa, C. (1995). Students Lead Their Own Parent Conferences. Teaching PreK-8, 25, 92-93.

Tuinstra, C., & Hiatt-Michael, D. (2004). Student-led parent conferences in middle schools. The School Community Journal, 14(1), 59-80.

Zimmerman, B. J., Bandura, A., & Martinez-Pons, M. (1992). Self-motivation for academic attainment: The role of self-efficacy beliefs and personal goal setting. American Educational Research Journal, 29(3), 663-676.

Renee R. Mudrey, The University of Akron

Kate Scholes, The University of Akron

Christine Lewis, Cleveland State University

Mudrey, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology and Scholes is a graduate student in the C & I program at The University of Akron. Lewis is a graduate student at Cleveland State University and a third grade teacher for the Highland Local Schools.
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Author:Lewis, Christine
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Dec 22, 2006
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