The Value of Guided Math Conferences!

If you would like to read more about Chapter one click on the picture!
The Value of Guided Math Conferences

If you have not heard the word “rigorous” in terms of the new standards (both Common Core and here in good ‘ol Indiana,  the College and Career Ready standards) you haven’t been paying attention.
The call is for more rigorous math instruction and learning.  The shift is from learning the steps to solve a problem, the equations and what not, to learning why we do these steps and how it all fits together to get an answer.

Here is my confession: until now I have been teaching math whole group!
Now I feel better. 
I decided to join this book study so that this year (2014-2015) I could better my math instruction and I plan to do that through Guided Math.  Honestly, I am pretty excited about it, but also a little nervous.

Now, if you are teaching reading using a Reader’s Workshop or Daily 5 approach, you are already familiar with the value of conferencing with your students about reading.  Maybe you are also doing Writer’s Workshop so you may even be comfortable doing individual or small group conferences with writing.  Really, when it comes down to it, meeting with children in small groups or individual conferences for math makes just as much sense and the value of doing so is for the same reasons!

So far the thing that has really struck me about this book is my assumption that if a child is getting the correct answer then they must know how to “do the math”.  This may or may not be true.  This is why conferencing with your children is so helpful.  You can sit down and “pick their brains” about what they are actually thinking when they are solving the problems put forth in class.

Chapter Summary

Having math conferences with student not only helps you get to know your cherubs as mathematicians better, it helps them to know themselves as mathematicians. 

One on one conferences are an effective instructional tool for teachers for several reasons:
1. formative assessment by teachers and students
“Assessment should not merely be done to students; rather, it should be done for students, to guide and enhance their learning”. 
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (2000, 22)

2. timely descriptive feedback
Most of the math feedback that students receive is a grade on their paper.  Holding math conferences gives the student feedback on the why their answers are correct and incorrect and time to practice their answers with guidance from the teacher.  This chapter points out that feedback is the most effective during the learning cycle, not after.

3. goal setting
 It is a way to help children set learning goals (which we all know is a great way to help kiddos take ownership of their own learning) and to take some responsibility for self-assessment.    
The kiddos should know:
 Where am I going? How am I going? and What is next?
An ideal learning environment or experience occurs when both teachers and students seek answers to each of these questions.
(Hattie and Timperely 2007, 88)

I thought that I would end my post by answering the Review and Reflect questions.  If you would like to join the conversation, please link up your blog below or add your thoughts in the comments section!

1. How have demands for increased rigor and depth in mathematics education affected your teaching?  In what ways can you use math conferences to meet these demands?
Obviously it has made me rethink the way that I am teaching math.  As I confessed earlier, I have always done whole group instruction.  Of course, when I would release the kiddos to work on their page or whatever assignment they had, I would station myself in a spot and let them come to me with questions etc.
This works to an extent, but I realized that not all of the kiddos would come to me.  So, the “high” kiddos who got it and the other kiddos who didn’t want to bother with speaking with me, I didn’t see.
I plan to implement Guided Math this coming school year in order to better serve my kiddos.  I would also like to have a journal component to keep up with the kiddos goals as well as to help them to start putting their mathematical thinking into words.

2. How does the use of math conferences for formative assessment compare to your current methods of formative assessment?
Currently my only “formative assessment” is done rather piecemeal.  It is mostly observing students as they work, or how they come to me for help.  Math conference will allow me to get to know all of my students better, not just the ones who come to me for help on individual problems.  It will also hold me and the students more accountable by setting specific math goals and working together toward reaching those goals.

3. When you identify the “next steps” in learning for individual students in your class, how do you provide the needed instruction?  What are the advantages/disadvantages of that method of instruction?  How does the use of math conferences compare to your current method?
Once we have decided the “next steps” I think that I would let the kiddos work on it on their own first.  Whether that would be through a worksheet, math page, journal entry, etc…
I think that then I would conference with the kiddos to see where they are on the right track and where they need help and instruct them from there.  That instruction could be individual or in small groups with other kiddos working on the same goal.  The advantages are individual differentiated instruction.  The disadvantage in my eyes is time.  I don’t think that there is enough time in the day to meet with every kiddo!  
My current method is whole group and meet with kiddos on a needs basis.  This is an okay approach if the kiddos realize that they need help!  This past year I had a few kiddos who were convinced that they knew what they were doing when they didn’t.  I had a few who just weren’t interested, so they wouldn’t come to me for help regardless.  I think that holding “conferences”  will cut back on this issue and help me get a better picture of each child.

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