Why Student-Led Conferences Work in Music Studio

Student led conferences work incredibly well in the music studio. And, this is because our subject matter tends to be among the least understood, visually confusing &, at times, overwhelming topic a non-musical parent can be faced with. But, it doesn’t have to be like this!


What are student led conferences?

Perhaps you have heard about student-led conference, or maybe this is a completely new idea for you.  Rather than the teacher leading the parent-teacher meeting, the student teaches their parent(s) a few concepts that they are learning. 

“[Students] need to understand that they are in control of their own efforts to learn the material.”

Barbara Rommel, superintendent of the David Douglas School District

For more information, check out Education World’s article regarding what student-led conferences look like in the classroom setting.

What this mean in a music studio

I used to write out progress reports for every single student. Even with a comment bank (an idea I borrowed from my school teaching days), it still took at least an hour per student to write. I agonized over wording so it would be as accessible to the non-instrument playing parents in my studio.

Do you know how hard it is to write a piano progress report without using any musical terms? It’s a bit like playing Taboo … but, not nearly as fun.

One year, an amazing & supportive Piano Dad told me, “I can see how much effort you put into these reports & I appreciate it …. but I have no clue what you’re saying in here other than my kids are doing well.”

It was my cue to stop wasting everyone’s time, save some trees & take a new approach.

Instead, my students & I went through their learning together during lesson. Then, I guided them in sharing that learning.


Why use student led conferences?

I was SO excited once my sons began doing student led conferences (SLC’s) with us at school.  Why?  Because I saw how successful they could be when I was teaching in the school system. 

Having a student show their learning has many benefits for the student, parent(s), & teacher.  It’s also a great way to concretely showcase exactly what is going on during lesson in a way that is approachable, fun & supportive. The exact opposite of progress reports!


Student benefits

There are so many benefits for students to participate in student led conferences!

  • Increased self confidence as they see how they have grown
  • Deeper understanding of concepts as they break it down to teach a non-musician (i.e. their parent)
  • Greater accountability for their practice habits (or lack thereof)
  • Sense of accomplishment as they choose materials to best demonstrate concepts (i.e. games, manipulatives)
  • Bond with parent(s) over music games

Remember the more we can have students take charge of their own learning, the more engaged they are all lesson. It also ensures students can begin to correct their own mistakes vs. forever being reliant on outside sources telling them.


Parent benefits

I have seen first-hand how much parents want to support their children. They just need the tools to do it & the support to make it happen.

Student led conferences help parents:

  • Get a concrete view of what their child(ren) are learning in lesson
  • Learn concepts & terms to guide them in helping their child(ren) during practice time
  • See their child(ren) excited about piano (always great for re-enrollment)
  • Experience the benefits of having a consistent practice schedule (or, if practice is an issue showcasing how important it is to have consistent practice times)
  • Understand the hard work of learning an instrument (for parents with unrealistic expectations)
  • Bond with child(ren) over music games

I had originally wondered how parents would feel about attending a lesson when they normally didn’t. Much like getting rid of make-up lessons, parents just needed a chance to try it to see how much they loved it! They overwhelming said they preferred this over the progress reports they got before.


Teacher benefits

I am a firm believer that we should always do our best to find balance between teaching & our personal lives. And that means reducing admin tasks if possible.

The benefits of including student led conferences in your studio are:

  • Ensuring students have a strong grasp on concepts
  • Actions speak louder than words … We can tell parents something a million times, but seeing it speaks louder.
  • Act as facilitator & support for student, rather than lecturer
  • Less admin time since the planning is done during lesson time
  • Great opportunity to celebrate progress while also looking ahead to the next term’s goals

From a purely selfish perspective, this is one lesson each year you don’t have to plan anything for. It’s a week of no prep!

Granted, if there weren’t all those incredible benefits for your students & their parents I would say tough luck … but, thankfully you get to have your cake & eat it too! This is one of those instances where less work on your part leads to better results.

Classroom or in-home studio teachers

If you are a teacher working in a school system, there is one more advantage for you!  By scheduling multiple families at the same time, they can circulate to different stations. 

How does this help you?  Traditional conferences meant I would be in meetings for 2 full days with no breaks.  SLC’s allow you to meet with families AND have breaks throughout the day.  I found I was more refreshed & alert which led to more informative & positive interactions with families. 

If multiple families sounds great to you, one studio option might be to have an open house format with access to lots of games & manipulatives students can use to teach.


Including student led conferences

Student led conferences changed my studio & I know it will for yours as well. With so many incredible benefits, it’s worth adding this to your annual studio programming.

To get a done-for-you option, click below to access the “Student Led Conference Planning Worksheets“. These are available in both PDF & Google Slide options, plus guide you & your student through exactly what is needed for a successful student led conference! (Click below for your copy.)

Student Led Conference Worksheets

Let me know in the comments below …

What advice do you have for those wanting to try out student led conferences? 

If you haven’t tried student-led conferences, will you be trying them?


NOTE: This article was originally published on February 25, 2019. It’s since been updated to include new ideas, research & just general awesomeness while still keeping the intention of the original content.

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