Conferring in Math

Making Math Count in WHPS

Conferring is not just for writing. Conferring is a high-impact instructional move that you can use to move student learning forward in math.

Many teachers had the opportunity to hear Carl Anderson speak about conferring with student writers. The power of conferring is not limited to writing instruction. It is a powerful tool for teachers in all subjects. Here is how this tool can be used in your mathematical community to address the needs of individual students and have a high impact on learning.


Why confer in math?


  • It's targeted - focused on one math goal of content or practice.
  • It's individualized and differentiated.
  • It creates the timely opportunity to immediately impact student learning.


What is a math conference?


  • It is a conversation about math.
  • The point is to help students become better thinkers about about math.
  • The math conference has a predictable structure, similar to writing.
  • In the math conference teachers and students have predictable roles, as with writing.
  • It's an opportunity to meet individual students at the edge of their understanding and move their learning forward.

How do you have a math conference?


  1. Ask a question. The question you ask will help you discover what the student is doing and understanding about the math. The question may lead you to a discovery of deeper understanding that needs to be fostered or a misunderstanding that needs to be addressed. You might find the student understands the procedure, but not the math concept. You may discover the student doesn't understand that what they are doing fits into a larger picture of the concept. Let the student have the opportunity to tell you what they know, need, or don't understand. This is powerful in helping all students develop self-efficacy for learning. See a list below of questions to get you started.
  2. Assess understanding. Use the conversation to assess the student's edge of understanding. It's an opportunity to discover the student's ability to model and explain the math. Getting a right answer is necessary, but not sufficient.
  3. Teach for improvement. The goal of a conference is to move a student's understanding forward in math. This takes explicit teaching. Just as Anderson suggested, cue the student that you are about to start teaching by saying, "There's something I want to teach you today..." Then, name the strategy you are teaching. Next, explain the strategy including what it is and why it is important to learn. Describe how to do it. Give examples and use the strategy, Now, let the student try the strategy. All students learn by doing. End the conference reminding the student to use this strategy when faced with similar math.
  4. Document the work. Create a simple system to record conferences. This will help you track student progress, give feedback, and direct your instruction. The information may give guidance to creating flexible groupings for small group instruction or partnering students to maximize learning.

When do I have conferences with students?


Anytime students are working independently in math. A conference can take place in 5 minutes or less, but have a powerful impact on learning. If you confer with 4-5 students a day, you can connect with most students each week, giving feedback and individual instruction.

Questions to Get the Math Conference Started

  • Tell me about the problem you are solving.
  • What are you working on?
  • How can you model that?
  • What strategy are you using to solve?
  • What do you know about this problem?
  • What other math does this make you think of?
  • What do you do when you get stuck?
  • How will this work help you answer the essential question?
  • What patterns do you notice?
  • What is another strategy that will allow you to solve?
  • Is there a more efficient strategy? (a quicker way)
  • Have you found a possible rule?
  • What is the problem asking?
  • Does this make sense, and how do you know?
  • What is confusing?
  • How can I help you?
  • Why did you choose this strategy?
  • What kind of errors have you made?
  • What can you do to correct your errors?
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