Written by Seth Abbott, middle school English Language Arts teacher at John E. Flynn a Marzano Academy in Westminster, Colorado

It’s happened to me a thousand times. I sit down with a family at a parent/teacher conference and my student that always has something to say about everything suddenly goes quiet. Like a turtle withdrawing themselves into a shell, my student finds themselves at the center of attention between the two most influential forces in their lives and are understandably at a loss for words.

If you’re like me and strive to include students’ thoughts, opinions and reflections into the all-important parent conference, this can be a frustrating experience to say the least. Even if you’re a teacher that likes to do student-centered conferences, there are times when no amount of preparation can change the anxiety students feel when having to speak in these moments – let alone elicit a well thought out and natural response.

This year, I was determined to find a better way.

Our Introduction to Video Editing

Because of the pandemic and remote learning, we have been using more video recording platforms in class. I discovered Flipgrid years ago, and found it invaluable in adequately assessing my students’ understanding while remote learning. However, at the beginning of this school year, I wanted something with a little more functionality. I was longing for something that would teach the students (and myself) some video editing skills and allow these students to create in a medium that they watch daily within their TikTok and YouTube apps. This is where WeVideo came to the rescue.

I don’t want to sound like I’m getting paid by WeVideo to make a testimonial here or anything like that. I’m not. I just really love what it is capable of doing. It’s powerful enough to make very professional looking videos yet intuitive enough for all students to learn quickly. We began using WeVideo to collaboratively create news style video reports, developed morning announcements for the school when we went remote for the months of November and December, and used it to chronicle the ins and outs of our personal projects. It’s been great.

So, when it came time to prepare for parent conferences, I knew my students had the tools to pull off my big idea – a video created and edited entirely by students to showcase their reflective voice. The results were just what I was hoping for.

Self-reflection Support

To begin with, I’ve been guiding my classes through a competency-based style reflection guide for years. It’s a targeted and concise one pager that asks students to self-assess their current standing with a handful of classroom goals. They have to list their current levels in all content areas, which at this point is something they can do off the top of their heads. I don’t want them to get too into the weeds on their progress toward level completion, as we also give out an extensive progress report created through Empower, our chosen learning management system and competency-based tracking software.

Next they self-assess their current standing with our classroom’s code of collaboration. We currently have three traits that we’re working toward mastering: Patience, Respect for Peers, and Positive Mindset (we retired Safety – staying out of each other’s’ bubbles just recently as the students felt they had mastered it as a class). We assess this on a bi-weekly basis using the Plickers program and results are tracked on a line-graph visible to all students.

Then comes an assessment of basic classroom goals like turning in work in a timely manner, being responsible with technology, and having all supplies ready when necessary. These can change from class to class based upon need. Think of them as a self-assessment of any classroom rules, goals or SOPs you might have.

The last part of my student self-assessment guide is the plus/delta. At this point, I want to keep goal setting light and easy with a simple statement describing one thing the student is most proud of (plus), and one for the thing the student would like to change in the near future (delta). I like to alter the wording of the delta goal from “change” to “even better if.” I would be even better if _______. This not only forces the student to reflect on one thing they would like to get better at, but also forces them to come up with a picture of what success will look like.

Once all of these pieces have been scored, I ask the students to come up with examples, explanations, and anecdotes for each area in preparation for their video recording. If students aren’t prompted to come up with reasoning and evidence of their scores, their videos will likely be simplistic and only cover the basics of their overall thinking.

This can be difficult for some students, and I have found their peers are good resources for offering up supportive suggestions.

Putting it All Together

 Once students feel adequately prepared, they begin recording their videos. There are many nuances we have learned about the best way to record and edit videos, and many challenges had to be overcome.

Some basic logistics like the classroom being a noisy place to record were solved by having students use microphones and recording in vacant rooms, offices, and hallways. Students didn’t like the way the cameras moved around, so they quickly began to use boxes as props if they were sitting on the floor. In order to maintain COVID safety measures, most students still recorded while wearing their masks but a few did head outside and record with their masks off.

To add their own personal flair, some students wanted me to record them working, walking the hallways, or doing other school activities to be turned into segment transitions, introductions, and closings. This was an easy enough task using my phone to record and upload through Google Drive. I really like the way a slow-motion video looks in transition from one segment to the next.

Because they have been editing all year, it really only took them one class period to throw it all together, once they had done the recording. Adding music, transitions, callouts, and graphics is definitely part of the fun, and students can get pretty creative.

In the end, students had created something all on their own that showed an open, honest, and mature portrait of their progress in school. To say they were proud and excited to show their parents would be an understatement.

Just What We Needed

When it came time for conferences, presenting the videos to students’ families was exactly what I had been looking for. Perhaps for the first time, many parents were hearing their students give a real account of their current educational experience, and students were proud to show their parents what they had created.

One student, Josue, did an exceptional job with his reflection video. “You guys raised a very wonderful child… I always try my best on school and focus really, really hard,” he begins. Josue spoke directly to his parents in his video, which added an outstanding personal touch. Prior to his conference, he told his parents all about his video and how much he hoped they would like it. He was not only proud of the video he had created, but of the type of student he has become.  “If I keep on grinding… then I’ll level up to a level 6 math, and that’s what I’m trying to go for.” As he fades out, a video of a football player under the lights comes on, with rock music blaring loudly. Even reflective kids need to have a little fun sometimes.

You can see Josue’s reflection video here: https://youtu.be/lnpQnppAvIs

Seth Abbott teaches middle school language arts at John E. Flynn a Marzano Academy in Westminster, Colorado. He has spoken and consulted extensively about personalized competency-based education and is co-author of the upcoming book Teaching in a Competency-Based Elementary School: The Academy Model with Dr. Marzano. You can follow him on Twitter @SethDAbbott and on YouTube @MrAbbott