First of all, I want to warn you all that this is the first time that I am attempting to schedule a blog post. Hopefully it is posting right on time on July 10th. :-) Now, let's get down to business.
I must admit that I have used conferencing (both peer and with me) in writing, but I've never used it in math. As with everything else, I'm curious how this element of Guided Math will fit in with our district's new elementary math curriculum.
Sammons asserts that "conferring is a fundamental piece of Math Workshop" (p. 207). According to her, the purpose of conferring is to learn about students' work, what they understand or are struggling with, and to decide what the next learning step should be for the student and/or the whole class. The result of conferring with students is that it provides a sharper focus for our math instruction. Teachers are also able to provide prompt assessment and feedback to students when they engage in math conferences.
Some helpful management tips/cautions are provided in the chapter. Procedures must be taught to students concerning what to do if students finish their independent work early, what to do if they get stuck on their work, and finally that they are not allowed to interrupt the teacher. I like how Sammons makes sure to address the situation of students who struggle with their independent work during conferences by suggesting that the teacher conference with that student later that day or the next, where she will be able to provide the student with better attention than if she allowed him or her to interrupt her conferences with other students. Additionally Sammons suggests waiting a few minutes before starting conferences to make sure that students engage in their work following the teacher's instructions. Additionally, to help with classroom management, Sammons suggests organizing her conferences in a criss-cross position across the classroom.
The structure that Sammons suggests for a math conference includes:
- Research Student Understandings
- Decide What is Needed
- Teach to Student Needs
- Link to the Future
The research Sammons refers to is finding out what the student is doing for a task and what he or she understands about the task and its related concepts. According to Sammons, this phase of the conference can be the most difficult for teachers. The teacher is hoping to discover proof of what the student understands related to the mathematical concept and how he can apply it. Sammons suggests referencing previously-taken anecdotal records during the research phase. The research can also include additional student observation. The teacher should question the student as part of the research, also, helping the student to use correct math vocabulary as he responds to her questions.
Problems that a teacher may face in this phase include taking too much time to research within the allotted conference time and neglecting to use the research to determine the next learning steps. While the second problem may occur from time to time, frequent occurrences of the problem suggests that the teacher is failing to understand the purposes of math conferences.
2) Decide What is Needed- This phase of the conference should practically occur at the same time as the research phase. The teacher's responsibilities are:
- They identify things students are doing well so that they can give them genuine and specific compliments.
- They decide what they can teach students to move them forward.
- They focus on how to best use the few minutes left of the conference to teach those points to the students, so that students' learning will be retained by them and then used in their mathematics work in the future.
3) Teach to Student Needs- The three most common teaching methods used in reading conferences (and suggested for math conferences) are guided practice, demonstration, and explaining and showing an example. With guided practice, the student has the major responsibility for trying out the teaching point/strategy, but the teacher is right there watching and coaching. The student's experience is scaffolded, and the teacher can correct any mistakes the student makes/make sure he or she does the work correctly. Demonstrations require a teacher to model a math strategy or process while thinking aloud. The tasks should be broken down into achievable pieces and the reason for doing each piece should be explained to the student. Demonstrations help a student when he later tries to replicate the strategy or process independently. To complete the demonstration, the teacher should once again stress what is most important for the student to remember from the demonstration when he is later working independently. The third method is explaining and showing an example. The guided math classroom has a wealth of examples displayed that include anchor charts, work of other students, problems in math-related literature, problems from the textbook, and problems of the day and week. In this method, the teacher explains a math strategy or procedure, and then directs the student's attention to one of these example problems whose solutions are displayed in the classroom.
4) Link to the Future- Linking to the future occurs as teachers summarize the conference with students and remind them how they may use the learning/apply it to future math situations. This helps students generalize their learning from the conference to other, future math tasks.
While I like Sammons's conference forms (I like that she acknowledges that some teachers choose their own method of recording math conferences that does not include any of her forms.), I think I would add a monthly calendar so I would have a visual of which students I had held conferences with. Maybe something like this (with a better picture, of course) that I quickly created in Microsoft Publisher.
I would use this calendar to record the names of students on days that I had a math conference with them. I would pair this with a system that allowed for more specific note-taking regarding individual student math progress. Sammons mentions dividing a spiral into sections for each student. I would either do this (making sure to use tabs for easy access) or set up a 3-ring binder with dividers and paper. I would also use the clipboard and label note-taking method that I mentioned in my post about Chapter 5. I would then stick the labels on each student's page in chronological order. I think that the most important thing is that conference notes are organized in a way that is useful to the teacher. Sammons refers to some noted researchers of reading conferences, Calkins, Hartman, and White (2005), who suggest that the notes can help teachers to:
- plan for future conferences
- recognize the strengths of their students
- discover future teaching options
- broaden the scope of conferences, and
- follow-up on conference teaching points
We are getting close to the finish line with our book study. With only Assessment and Putting It Into Practice left, I feel like I am gaining a realistic picture of how guided math looks in the classroom and what I need to do to successfully implement it. 2 chapters to go!!