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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Conferring with Young Mathematicians

 Guided Math Conferences
Chapter Overview
Laney Sammons notes that small class sizes are important.  Conferences have been done in reading for a long time and since they provide a glimpse into student thinking—it is (should be) “the heart and soul of teaching.”  We have thoughtful literacy; we should also have thoughtful numeracy.  This means that our math conferences have a purpose and a predictable structures, discover the lines of thinking use by the student, both teacher and student have conversational roles, and the student knows that the teacher cares about him/her as a mathematician. Guided math conferences are 1:1 conversations where teacher and student sit side-by-side and shoulder-to-shoulder.    
Chapter one describes three different components in guided math: guided math conferences, math interviews, and small-group instruction.  Figure 1.1 provides a comparison of the three, but the biggest take–away is that conferences provide very-specific and immediate feedback, while math interviews are basically an assessment to inform instruction for that individual student.  Chapter one also provides snapshots (examples) of each, so we can more clearly see the differences in the purpose of each.  Figure 1.2 provides an overview of the structure of the guided math conference: research, decide, teach, link.

1.       How often are you able to engage your students in one-on-one conversations about their mathematical thinking? Honestly, I rarely could engage my students in one-on-one conversations about their mathematical thinking because I always found myself fixing technology problems and meeting with my guided groups.  I had 5-6 guided math groups in each section of math I taught.  In order to meet with each group daily during my 75-minute math period, conferring (not yet a required piece of our newly adopted math workshop framework) was what I didn’t know much about, so it got left out.  This year I will be teaching only one section of math and with the support of at least one other teacher, so I know that students will be met with at least once a week.  When I taught in a S.A.G.E. classroom a few years ago, I met with each student every other day for conferring and daily (or as planned) for guided groups.  Small class sizes make a difference!

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? The most important benefit of math conferences is getting a glimpse of student thinking and allowing a student to explain his/herself.  I have noticed that students know more than they can explain or often they are misguided in one piece of their thinking and that “ruins” their outcome.  I have been trying to create rubrics that include the process and not only the final answer, in order to take into account their mathematical thinking and give credit for what they DO know.  The greatest hurdles are mentioned above. 
       Any suggestions on how to get through 30 individual conferences, six guided groups (per day?) between the mini-lesson and share timeso about 45-50 minute daily time period?  All suggestions are welcome!!!

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 questions would you ask if you decide to confer with this student? I had a student who had a hard time multiplying this year.  She understood arrays and equal groups; when it came time for the equation or a word problem that required multiplication, it just didn’t work out for her.  I would like to know what strategies she is using and how she goes about solving the problem.  Does she look for key words?  Does she even read the whole problem?  If she draws a picture, what is it and why did she draw it?  I would ask her to show me evidence, i.e.: what in the problem made you think you should add x+y to find the answer?  I would love to see where her confusion was, especially since she was fairly fluent with her basic addition and subtraction facts.

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