Guided Math Conferences - What are They? (Freebie!)

I'm so excited to be apart of this book study this summer.  Not just because I love to further develop my professional self, but also because I've hit the Pregnancy Insomnia stage and I need something quiet to do in bed while the hubby sleeps :)  Haha!  I was up last night reading the first chapter while he snored away.  And no, I didn't fall asleep while reading! (Which I normally do)  I guess that just goes to show you how exciting and interesting this book is!  

So I'm linking up to help inform you about chapter one:  "Conferring with Young Mathematicians"  

If you haven't read Laney Sammons' first book:  Guided Math, you'll definitely want to pick it up!  OR you can check out our book study from two years ago!  Click on the picture below and you'll want to scroll to the middle of the page to find the links to all of the blogs and chapters :) 

So the basis of Guided Math is VERY similar to Guided Reading.  You have your whole group instruction, small group, mini lesson, etc.  Our book study this summer is going to focus on one small but very important piece of that structure: Math Conferences.  Just like in reading, we get to know our readers better when we are one on one with them - asking questions, listening to them talk and think out loud.  We have time to get inside their brains!  (insert Frankenstein laugh here)  That's the gist of Math Conferences as well - but what I'm learning while reading this book is how to make them purposeful.  

One big concept that really stuck with me is when Laney compared reading to math.  Yes, as a teacher  I knew there were lots of similarities on how they should be taught - but not to the level she describes.  She goes on to describe reading as this:

  • "Reading is the act of constructing meaning."
  • "Reading is a process."
  • "Reading is deeply personal and, therefore, varies from reader to reader."

If you stop and think about those points individually - they all apply to math as well.  There is so much background knowledge that takes place when it comes to learning math.  I can't tell you how many times when teaching the concept of money, I've thought to myself - haven't they been to a store and BOUGHT something (referring to making change).  I teach in a high poverty/low income school district - so a lot of my kids lack that piece of important background knowledge.  Just like we 'access prior knowledge' in reading lessons - its important to think and do the same in math.  But when we're given 30 minutes, 60 minutes, or somewhere in between on a time limit to teach such important skills - its hard to find the time to squeeze everything in.  

This is where guided math conferences come into play!  They help us develop those important bonds and access each students' thinking and prior knowledge one on one.  In order for conferences to be meaningful, Laney states that they must have the following characteristics:

  1. ..have a purpose
  2. ..have a predictable structure
  3. Lines of thinking are pursued w/ students
  4. Both teachers and students each have conversational roles
  5. Students are shown that teachers care
She goes on to state that the "major function of the conference - assessment, feedback, and instruction - all are entwined."  

Things starting to click now?  I definitely had some "ah-ha!" moments last night while reading it all :)  

One big piece of chapter one that I loved was the fact that Laney took the time to compare/contrast guided math conferences with two other important structural pieces to show and tell us the difference between them:  small group instruction and math interviews.  

Basically - to break it down:  Math interviews are more for assessment - there is no guidance at the end and no feedback given to the student.  Small group instruction includes focus on the group as a whole instead of each individual child's needs.  Guided math conferences are geared more towards the student being allowed to work through a problem while the teacher listens and guides, gives feedback, asks questions, gives suggestions, sets goals, and takes notes.  There's a lot of difference between each one of these important pieces of instruction.  The time they take to implement is also different:

*conferences are about 5 minutes
*interviews are about 10-15 minutes
*small group instruction is about 15 - 20 minutes

(AH!  So much good information!)

Laney ends the chapter with a nice visual on the structure of what a Guided Math Conference should look like.  I would almost consider this my 'checklist' as I met with each student.  

I need to:

  • Research the student's understand and skills
    • Observe student
    • Listen as student answers questions
    • ask more questions to get further information
    • student does most of talking
  • Decide what is needed
    • what should be the student's next step
    • what has the student done well?  (give feedback) 
  • Teach to student's needs
    • use demonstration or guided practice to teach to student's needs
    • briefly practice
  • Link to the future
    • Set goal for next meeting
    • student shares/reflects on their learning

If you think about it, that's a lot to do in about 5 minutes and then a lot for the teacher to remember (especially when having 20+ students to do it with each week!)  So to help, I've come up with a quick and easy data form that address all of the needs of a guided math conference.  It's nothing fancy, but I thought it would help those of us who plan to do guided math and conferences to make sure we're getting in what's important in the conference and also being able to remember what happened at each conference with each student.  I plan to print these off ( about 20 per student to begin) and put them in a conference binder with a tab for each student.  Easy access and organization and what great data to use and share with parents!  Click on the photo below to grab a free copy! (please let me know if the link ever stops working!)

Well, that's chapter one for you!  I'd love to hear what your thoughts are!  Make sure to leave a comment :)  And stay tuned for chapter two soon!  Also, check out the linky for other bloggers' takes on Chapter One!  Lots of great info to share!


  1. Great post! Thanks for sharing the conference form. I am doing a post on Chapter 6 and will be trying to provide some helpful forms too!

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