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Thursday / December 2

It’s That Time of the Year…. 5 Tips For Making the Most of Math Conferences!

At this point in the school year, you may be preparing for upcoming parent-teacher/family-teacher conferences. Or you may have recently had your first round of conferences and are reflecting on how they went. Whichever is the case, it is always a good time to revisit your current thinking about these conversations by considering how to make them even more informative and meaningful for families.

Teaching and learning probably looks different than it did when your students’ adults were in school. Use the parent-teacher conference to find ways to provide families with a glimpse into what math looks like for their child in your classroom. You can do this by drawing on the student’s strengths and successes as a mathematician.

Here are some tips that you might consider to make the most of your math conferences:

Tip #1: Prepare To Utilize the Time You Have Together

You don’t want to spend the few minutes you have with the families shuffling through papers, so take time before the conference to prepare. Gather student work and organize it in a folder labeled with the student’s name. Feel free to include any artifacts you believe would be beneficial for the parent to see. Be choosy though, as you can’t share everything!

Some teachers find it useful to fill out a “note page” that has specific headings such as student strengths in math, what the student is working on, and suggestions of things the parents can do at home. Others put comments on sticky notes to jot their thoughts about why student work is “conference-worthy”. By thinking about what you’d like to share beforehand, you will make the most of your conference time. And you are more likely not to forget something you’d like to share.

Tip #2: Invite the Families into the Conversation

Mathematics is not a topic everyone feels comfortable discussing. Invite the student’s family into the conversation by beginning with “good news.” You might start with a piece of work that highlights a particular strength of the student. Or you might share a recent story that reveals the student’s mathematical thinking. Leave your comments about what content or skills the student still needs to work on for later in the conversation.

As you talk with parents, be mindful of helping them understand the math content. For example, if you’ve focused on regrouping, help parents make sense of what this is. Many aren’t familiar with the term, but they will understand this is an important idea in adding larger values once you provide a short explanation of what regrouping entails.

Tip #3: Share the Student’s Learning Story (Or Have Them Tell It!)

Families enjoy seeing their student’s work and hearing about all of the things they are learning in math class. You might share a string of student work, math journal entries, or digital pictures. There isn’t one best thing to showcase, as the families will appreciate looking at all types of evidence that reflect a student’s learning.

If your school supports student-led conferences, invite your students to participate in the conference and share themselves!! Older elementary students can select work they feel best represents their learning. Younger students may need some assistance or suggestions of what pieces they might choose to talk about.

You can set your students up for success by having them think about the piece(s) they choose to showcase prior to the conference. It may have been chosen because the student was proud of how they tried different strategies before landing on an answer. Or possibly it was the problem where the student persevered to understand the situation. These anecdotes will help the parents gain a more vivid picture of their child as a learner of mathematics.

Tip #4: Learn About How the Family Views Mathematics

It is useful to know how a student’s family feels about mathematics. Are they a family who regularly plays math games? Or do they view mathematics as a subject that only people with the “math gene” are good at? Reserve a bit of time to ask the family a few questions to gain a greater insight about their feelings toward mathematics. You might ask some questions such as:

  • How do you view mathematics as a family?
  • Would you like to share anything about your personal math story?
  • Do you have any concerns about helping your child at home with math?

Tip #5:  End On a Positive Note

As the conference comes to a close, don’t forget to end in a positive way. This can be a simple comment such as, “I really enjoy having your child in my class due to his willingness to collaborate with his peers to solve math problems.” Or you may thank the families for the support they give their child at home with learning mathematics.

You might give families an activity or resource they could use at home. This may be a simple math activity, game, or website. A strategy or list of questions to help students when they are stuck could also be shared. Families are appreciative of these suggestions which support their child’s math learning.

Hopefully these ideas have sparked some thoughts about how you might make your next math conferences student and family-friendly. Families are eager to learn about how their child is doing in math, so make the most of your conference time and enjoy sharing student successes!

Written by

Susie Katt, EdD, is the K–2 math coordinator in Lincoln, Nebraska, where she leads professional learning, assessment, and math curriculum development. She is an author and a national math curriculum consultant. Susie is co-author of the first book in Corwin’s Five to Thrive series Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Elementary Math (Corwin, 2021) and Productive Math Struggle: A 6-Point Action Plan for Fostering Perseverance (Corwin, 2020). Susie is active in the NCTM as she has served as the chair of the editorial panel for the journal Teaching Children Mathematics, and as a member of program committees for annual meetings and regional conferences.

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