Guided Math Conferences - Chapter 1!

Woot! So happy to get this party rolling! I was super excited when this book crossed my path. I implemented Guided Math a few years ago and absolutely LOVE it! It has transformed the effectiveness of my math instruction. I honestly believe it has improved my kiddos' performance and more importantly, their understanding! BUT - the math conferences piece has always been something I've struggled to do effectively...so I practically did a little jig when I found this book!

First of all, as you've probably already guessed, math conferences are very much like guided reading conferences. You get such a rich and valid picture of kiddos' thinking and understanding in conferences. Let's be honest....it's hard to get a really clear picture of kiddos' true thinking or understanding from class discussions OR even assessments! I SO relate with Marilyn Burns' statement, "I never really knew what students were thinking or whether their correct answers masked incorrect ideas. I only knew that they had given the answer I sought." Anyone else relate to that?

Think about these components that we believe good reading instruction should have:

  • match the individual reader
  • teach toward independence
  • explicitly teach strategies
  • value time to experience reading
  • follow predictable structures & routines
Doesn't it make sense the good math instruction should have similar components? Guided math conferences is a way to meet those expectations.

What are Guided Math Conferences?
Simply put, they are one-on-one conversations with students about their math work...like one mathematician to another. Of course, there's a tiny bit of a difference between a conversation & conference. A conference:

  • has a purpose
  • has a predictable structure
  • lines of thinking are pursued with the student
  • teacher & student has conversational role
  • students are shown that teachers care about them
Wondering what the Guided Math Conference Structure looks like?

Yup...me, too! Here's what it looks like - I bet you already do it...just maybe not a consistent or planned basis.

Reasearch Student Understanding & Skills
Observe the student's work, listen to his responses to your questions about his work to try to get an understanding of what he's trying to do as a mathematician. Probe to glean more about his intentions and comprehension of the concept as well as his mathematical capability. But - remember...the student does most of the talking during this part!

Decide What's Needed
Weigh the validity of his current strategies and processes and determine what his next step in learning should be. Decide on ONE specific learning point and how you're going to teach it. Name specifically what the student has done WELL with an authentic compliment, link it directly to the language of the standards, and remind him to continue to do this in the future.

Teach to Student's Needs
Use modeling, guided practice, or explicit telling to correct or extend the student's understanding & ability. Have him briefly practice and explain what he has learned.

Link to the Future
Again, name what he has done as a mathematician & remind him to continue doing this in the future. Ask him to share a reflection on the math that was just learned.

Okay - so that's the general structure...but they won't always run exactly like that. In fact, there are different kinds of Guided Math Conferences!
  • Compliment Conferences - used to motivate kiddos, or to lift the spirits of discouraged learners
  • Comprehension Conferences - you're assessing and extending the student's degree of comprehension (as in the sample structure above).
  • Skill Conferences - the focus is on assessing and extending the SKILL of the student (both process & computational)
  • Problem-Solving Conferences - used to explore the problem-solving strategies kiddos are using and then to add to their toolbox of strategies, if needed.
  • Self-Assessment & Goal-Setting Conferences - I'm super excited about this one...student self assessment & personal goal setting is on of my professional goals for the year! In this one, you & the student review progress toward meeting learning targets and set new goals.
  • Recheck Conferences - You can use this type of conference to check in with students to see if they're using what was learned in earlier conferences. 
I just cannot tell you how excited I am about setting the conference structure up in my classroom! I've got a couple questions for YOU....
What do you think is the most important benefit of math conferences?
What is the biggest barrier to implementing math conferences in you classroom?
How could you overcome those barriers?

I hope you'll follow along with us! If you don't have a blog, just comment below....we'd love to hear your thoughts & continue conversations. If you do have a blog, feel free to link up your thoughts on guided math conferences. Feel free to grab the button above (just right click, save as picture, then insert picture in your post).