Throughout the year, whether we are in an elementary, middle years, or secondary school, we invite parents and guardians in to talk about their son’s or daughter’s growth and progress. This usually includes students demonstrating their learning or sharing a portfolio.

We often hear teachers ask this question: “How can I help parents respond to their son’s or daughter’s work in a positive, constructive manner?”

Parents and guardians don't always know the right thing to say to their son or daughter at parent-student-teacher conferences. As teachers, we can help with suggestions on supportive feedback. Click To Tweet

Responding to work is something that we do every day. As educators, we learn about the best ways to give students feedback and the types of questions that cause our students to think more deeply about their learning. And even as professionals, we too can be stumped by what to say next. Why then might we assume that parents know the just-right, next best thing to say to their son or daughter?

Usually we write a newsletter to describe to parents what to expect when they attend a parent-student-teacher conference. We might also seek their feedback after the conference is finished.

For some parents, this may not be enough; they may have more questions and might not have enough confidence to ask us those questions.

Strategies for better feedback

Here are some other strategies to think about in order to prepare parents, guardians, and other adults to respond in a positive and constructive manner to their son or daughter and his/her work:

  • Offer students phrases to complete, such as “Two things that I want you to notice in my work are…” or “Next time I might try this in my work…” Students respond with features of the work that go beyond the surface, like neat handwriting or a good score, while referring to the criteria. This serves as a model for parents as their son or daughter shares the specific language of assessment with them, and scaffolds the phrases that parents can use with their sons and daughters.
  • Provide parents with specific questions that they can ask their son or daughter, such as “What did you do in class to be able to create this piece of work?” or “Why did you choose to put this piece of work into your portfolio?” or “What do you think you need to get better at…?”
  • Videotape a conversation between a student and his/her parent. Post it on your school’s website. Invite other parents to watch it so that they might better understand what a conference that includes the child looks like.
  • Send a piece of work home periodically with the sole purpose of practising a conversation between parent and child. Offer a short interview frame to provide support. For example:
    • Describe this piece of work to me.
    • What is one thing that you want me to notice about your work?
    • Here is one thing that I am noticing about your work…
    • This piece of work makes me think about…
    • A question I now have is…

There are many other tried and tested strategies to use.

What we want you to consider is that it is easy to expect parents to know what to do in these learning-focussed conversations. However, it is also easy to point our finger at the parent when it does not unfold as expected.

Rather, let’s ask ourselves what we might do to assist our parents. Success is within reach when we are all prepared.

Want more?

Extend your learning with Conferencing and Reporting, 2nd Edition  – part of the Knowing What Counts series. In this best-selling book, the authors have selected the top ten best ways to have students reflecting on their learning, collecting evidence of learning, sharing that evidence with others and asking for specific feedback to support further learning. There are even templates you can implement to help students clarify and stick to their learning goals.

If you’re an elementary or middle years teacher, look at Grading, Reporting, and Professional Judgment in Elementary Classrooms. You’ll find an abundance of tips and pointers you can incorporate into your practice.

If you’re a high school teacher, look at A Fresh Look at Grading and Reporting in High Schools for an examination of the changing dynamic of parent / student / teacher reporting, and how to make the experience rewarding for the students and parents.

Anne Davies, Sandra Herbst, and Brenda Augusta

Anne Davies, Sandra Herbst, and Brenda Augusta

Anne Davies, Sandra Herbst, and Brenda Augusta are educators, consultants, authors, and presenters who are highly sought after, both locally and globally. Their energy, passion, and expertise have helped teachers, leaders, schools, and systems to move forward with competence and confidence. Learn more about the team here...


Like most education professionals, we have a burning desire to make a difference in the lives of learners. We started as teachers and leaders, but saw the potential to drive greater transformation by creating and sharing methodologies with other educators.

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