Sunday, July 6, 2014

Guided Math Conferences Book Study- Chapter 1 "Conferring with Young Mathematicians"

I am joining this summer book study on Guided Math Conferences by author Laney Sammons.  Chapter 1 is being hosted by Thinking of Teaching and Brenda of Primary Inspired.  If you join in and do a post, please comment and I will be sure to head to your blog and check out your post.

This chapter started by giving a "Tale of Four Students" where Sammons illustrated how little a multiple choice answer tells us about student understanding, whether correct or wrong.  Open response items give us a clearer picture of student thinking (as long as work is shown).

Math conferences are one-on-one conversations with students about their mathematics work, as one mathematician talking with another. (p 16)

Characteristics of Guided Math Conferences:
  • Conferences have a purpose.
  • Conferences have a predictable structure.
  • Lines of thinking are pursued with students.
  • Teachers and students each have conversational roles.
  • Students are shown that teachers care about them.

I am really excited to read this book and figure out a predictable structure for conferring with my students.  I love the last point and totally agree that by meeting one-on-one with students it shows you care about their learning and helping them to be successful mathematicians.  The importance of that point cannot be overlooked.

Guided Math Conferences, Math Interviews, and Small-Group Instruction:
  • Guided Math Conferences- take about five minutes, they are between the teacher and one student where you focus on what the student is currently working on, and give assessment, feedback, or individual instruction (using a teaching point)
  • Math Interviews- last 5-10 minutes, they are between the teacher and one student where you focus in on an instructional task introduced by the teacher and the purpose is for assessment
  • Small-Group Instruction- lasts 15-20 minutes, it's between the teacher and 2-6 students where you do a group lesson, this is for group instruction of a focused lesson, assessment, or feedback

Last year I definitely did small group instruction much more that actual conferring.  My small group instruction could be anywhere from 3-15 minutes working with a group, often based on entrance/exit slip data that was primarily skill based. I'm really proud on how much small group instruction I did with my students last year, but I can see room for improvement even on how I did small group mini lessons.  I am so excited that I am getting a kidney table to use for this next year!  

Review and Reflect Questions:
1.   How often are you able to engage your students in one-on-one conversations about their mathematical thinking?   I would say that I do this on a daily basis in my classroom, however, I certainly don't do it everyday with every student.  During the "work time" portion of workshop I go around from group to group listening in on student discourse.  At this time I will sometimes interject when students become stuck.  Most of the time I do it for the whole group, not an individual student.  On MATHia days (our self paced computer program) I tend to me more with students one-on-one if they become stuck on a problem. 
2. What do you think is the most important benefit of math conferences? What are the greatest hurdles to implementing math conferences in your classroom? How could you overcome these hurdles? I think the most important benefit is getting to know where each individual learner is at, and then using that information to give specific feedback and instruction to each individual learner.  The greatest hurdles are time and for me at this point it is creating the structure to do this in a meaningful and timely manner.  Hopefully I will have figured that out by the end of this book.  I can overcome the hurdles by careful planning, both how to structure the conferences, and how they will fit into my math workshop.
3. Think of a student in your class who is struggling with a mathematical concept or skill.  What would you like to know about his or her mathematical thinking? What question would you ask if you decide to confer with this student?  I would want to know the thought process the student is using to solve the problem, but first I would want him to read the problem and tell what it was asking him to do.  I would ask questions: What makes you think that? What is the question this problem is asking? Can you tell me what you are thinking?  I would observe the step by step process they use to solve the problem.  Also before the students began I would have him mark the text of the problem.  This is a disciplinary literacy strategy that we use all the time in my classroom and it is so helpful to focus students on what is pertinent information they need to solve the problem.

I am really looking forward to sharing ideas with others as we complete this summer book study.  I fully implemented workshop in my 7th grade math class last year, but know that conferring was one of the areas I need to really improve on.  I know this book will help me figure it all out as I prepare myself for this coming school year.


  1. I LOVE that you have done the workshop format in middle school! I would have LOVED your math class as a middle schooler! I teach 5th grade and next year my kids go to middle school. What would you say are the best things I need to do in math to help my kiddos be successful in middle school? Looking forward to learning lots from you this summer!

    Carmen Zeisler

    Exploring Elementary
    Fourth Grade

  2. Hi, I also teach 7th grade math! Two things I'm
    Often for conferencing and do you keep a log book or record sheet?


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