Highlighting Ideas From Conferring in the Math Classroom: A Practical Guidebook to Using 5-Minute Conferences to Grow Confident Mathematicians, K-5 by Gina Picha
Some of the most powerful moments in math class come from short, but intentional conversations between teachers and students immersed in a math task. But how do we plan for these conversations? What are the best questions to ask? And how do we honor students’ current ideas while also nudging their mathematical thinking forward?
In today’s Math Monday we’re taking a peek behind the cover of our newest Stenhouse math book, Conferring in the Math Classroom by Gina Picha.
What Exactly Is a Math Conference?
As author Gina Picha writes, “Math conferences are brief conversations that help us understand our students’ thinking and provide opportunities to observe our students as they engage in mathematics.”
Each and every math conference shares three essential elements:
1. Listening and observing
Listening and observing are the heart of conferring. When we listen attentively to our students’ ideas, we communicate that we are interested in their work, believe in their abilities to reason and make mathematical decisions, and see them as valued members of the math community.
2. Naming and noticing students’ strengths
When we approach students with the goal of listening intently to their ideas, we are likely to notice the important decisions they make as mathematicians.
3. Encouraging students to share ideas
Sometimes teachers invite students to share a strategy or new idea with the classroom math community. Other times students are nudged to share with a partner or small group of students. The purpose of this part of a math conference is to give students frequent opportunities to engage with the math community by sharing their strategies, presenting and defending their ideas, and even challenging the ideas of their peers.
Similarities and Differences Between Conferring in Literacy and Conferring in Math
If you’re also a literacy teacher, then you might be hoping that there are some connections between conferring with writers and mathematicians. There are! As Gina writes, “Both writing and math conferences involve deep listening and observation work. They also share the same overarching goals of supporting students’ long-term growth and helping students to develop a love and appreciation for the craft of writing and mathematics. And while literacy and math conferences do have some similarities there are also some important differences.”
This helpful chart outlines some similarities and differences between writing and math conferences.
Starting with Strengths
One essential component of math conferences that you can begin using tomorrow is noticing and naming students’ strengths. Rather than focusing solely on whether a student has solved a problem correctly, we can begin by noticing aloud how students are acting as strategic problem solvers. Gina writes, “When we give ourselves the permission to listen to our students’ thinking and admire their work, we will find no shortage of things to gush over! And those amazing things are what we will name and reinforce during our conferences. This strengths-based approach keeps the flow of our conferences moving in a positive direction and affirms students’ mathematical abilities.”
But what are some of the strengths we might want to name and reinforce? Let’s take a look at a chart from Conferring in the Math Classroom for a few ideas.
What sorts of strengths do you notice as your students are working on math tasks? Pulling up a chair, listening to students’ thinking, and noticing their strengths are the most powerful first steps we can take towards a strong conferring practice!
Until next time, may your Monday be mathematically marvelous!
To learn more about Conferring in the Math Classroom by Gina Picha and to read a free preview of the book, visit our website.