Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Guided Math: Chapter 7

This post is part of my Guided Math Book Study. I will discuss each chapter in two sections: an overview of the chapter and my learning/wonderings and how this learning will affect my mathematics instruction. You can read the entire series of posts by clicking here. (Graphics for this post provided by Scrappin' Doodles.)

Conferring with Students During Guided Math

Most teachers are familiar with conferring with students during reading and writing. We often neglect to implement this important teaching opportunity with math. This chapter focuses on how to integrate conferences during the Math Workshop.

When teachers are conferring with students, they learn about the students' work, whether students are understanding or struggling with specific concepts and what they should do next to boost the child's learning. When we confer and use that information to guide our teaching, our craft becomes more powerful than if we don't confer. 

As we confer with students, we learn immediately if the child has grasped the concept(s) we have taught and want to make sure they know and understand. If they do understand, we can continue to push them forward. If they don't, we can provide immediate remediation to help each child master the concepts we are required to help them learn. In addition to conferring with a teacher, students should be taught how to confer with each other. If Little Joe is struggling with a concept that Big Joe has mastered, it would be fair to have Little Joe seek Big Joe's help if the teacher is otherwise busy.

Conferring allows teachers to target their teaching. Every child is met at his/her level during a conference and can be given the assistance that is most appropriate to their learning needs at that moment. 

A big thing to keep in mind is how to teach students what to do if they do become stuck during workshop time. We don't want the children to interrupt our conference or small-group teaching but they need to know what they will be expected to do when this problem arises. It is mentioned that the teacher can meet with the students who needed extra help later that same day or first thing the following day so the teacher can provide the targeted help and assistance that child needed.

This got me thinking about HOW you would know a specific child needed help during the workshop. If my goal is to teach my students to be self-sufficient so that I am uninterrupted in groups and/or conferences, how would I know that someone really needed help? Years ago, in college, a strategy was presented to us about allowing children to sign up for extra conferences. If there is a write-wipe board or other signup sheet available, students can add their name and if the teacher finishes early with a small group or has time left after the day's conferences, s/he can go to the sign up sheet and meet with anyone who has signed up for an extra conference because they were struggling and needed help. I also think it is VITAL that students be taught that if they do have a problem with something they are working on and sign up for that extra conference, it doesn't mean they SIT and do nothing until the teacher comes--they go on to another task or problem until the teacher can come and provide assistance.

It is mentioned that many of our students develop "learned helplessness" because they want help instead of thinking through the options they have when they face difficulty with a problem. They don't want to work through any obstacles and would rather we continue to "spoon feed" them and walk them through the steps themselves. As a result of this, when students have to struggle to learn, they become frustrated and give up. There are also students who, for whatever reasons, dawdle getting started or finish as fast as possible without a care in the world if they are correct or not. These sorts of behaviors are what makes it crucial for teachers to spend a few minutes of the workshop surveying the room to ensure that students are working and being productive before they begin their first group. 

It is mentioned that conferences are most effective if they can occur right after a teacher observes undesirable behavior. This isn't always possible or even feasible, however, so that is something that I think needs to be handled at the discretion of the teacher. If I am working with a small group and scan the room while the kids quickly work out a problem and notice a child totally off task, I can't stop my group and go conference with this child. It might be 5, 10 or even 15 minutes or more before I would have a chance to sit with that child and talk about what I noticed. I think it is vital that teachers use what they know and use common sense when they are thinking about how to handle issues such as this.

Structure of a Conference
Conferring with children across subject areas allows the child to become more responsible for sharing the knowledge and learning they have participating in and gained. Students need to understand that it is okay to make mistakes--that's why we're here! We're here to make mistakes in a place where we can figure out how to fix those mistakes so that they won't happen out in the real world where it could cost us a job. There are four main components to a conference, again adapted from the work of Lucy Calkins and colleagues.

Research Student Understanding: it is important for the teacher to know and understand what the child has been working on. A quick scan of the child's work or even ASKING the child to share what they have been working on can provide a launch point for the rest of the conference

Decide What is Needed: once the teacher understands what the student is working on and trying to accomplish, the teacher can decide if they need to solidify or modify the child's process or strategy. If the child has grasped a concept and is using the strategies taught, that's awesome.  If not, this is the time to determine if you need to help the child make modifications to their strategy. This is the time to determine if you need to extend the learning or remediate the learning.

Teach to Student Needs: help the child, based on the need for extension or remediation, by using manipulatives or guided practice to help the child to complete the task provided.

Link to the Future: restate what this child has been working on and remind the student that they will need to work on this again in the future to provide the understanding that this is an important concept for the child to know.

Record Keeping
It is important to document the conferences that are held with students, not only to satisfy data requirements but also to ensure that you can look back and see what the child has already been working on and notice gaps that might be preventing the child from moving forward. There are so many ways to keep these kinds of records: clipboards, data binders, sticky notes, etc. As mentioned previously in this study, I plan to use the Confer app since it saves paper, allows me to print if I want/need to and allows me to group and regroup my students based on their most recent conference goals and needs.

I really enjoyed this chapter about the conferences. Most of us use this format for language arts and it makes sense to shift it over into math. I like the idea that you don't HAVE to have a set schedule for the conferences but rather can shift and roam based upon observations of students working or wanting to check in with a child who was struggling yesterday to ensure they are doing okay today.

My principal is a stickler for having posted conferences so I will likely have to do that--but the idea of having an extra conference sign up sheet is appealing so if I finish early with a group or with that day's conferences, other children know that I will have time to get to them if they really need help and couldn't get it from a peer or any other adults that might be in the class.

Stay tuned for my thoughts and reflections on Chapter 8: Assessment in Guided Math!



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