Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Getting Families Involved in Math Education Part 3

If you are new to this series, we are taking a look at this book:

Today we will look at the authors suggestions for parent conferences and I will tell you about how I use parent conferences to get families involved in my school.

Litton, the author starts by giving some great advice on scheduling and preparing for conferences.  She then gives these suggestions and many others to ensure a successful conference.    

- Start on a positive note
- Ask parents to tell you what is going well and what their concerns are
- Show specific examples of student work that illustrate what you are saying.  
- Go over assessment results including individual interviews
- Plan ahead for conferences by regularly collecting student work
The chapter ends with a WONDERFUL appendix that shows many examples of student work that would be useful to share and gives ideas about comments you could make that illustrate current understanding and what their next steps are.

Clip art by Illumismart

Parent Conferences in my own school
      As the math specialist I get invited to attend the difficult conferences.  If a student is behind or in some cases very ahead of their peers, I will often be asked to join the conference.  Classroom teachers also invite me when they know parents have specific concerns or when it is a student I have a lot of contact with.  Sometimes I am asked to sit in on a conference because the parents are very difficult or have expressed opinions about their students math learning that do not show understanding of how or why we are teaching math as we do.  Depending on the reason for the conference and what the concerns are, I have many approaches but here are a few things I always do in conference situations.

- I like to start on a positive note by sharing a recent piece of student work that illustrates something they can do well or something that shows how far they have come.  Because I do so much formative assessment, I have a lot of student work samples available to choose from and can always find something positive.
- I then like to have parents share how they think their child is doing and any concerns they have.
- I am all about data driven decision making so then I will share any assessments.  For primary students this often includes individual interviews, especially if a student is behind.  I go over the current assessment results and show their progress over time if applicable. 
- I show other student work and point out specifically how the work illustrates them progressing or not progressing toward meeting the standard.  I also like to explain what the next steps are in terms of what we are working on next.
- I prepare myself to answer the hard questions.  Why are you teaching it this way instead of that way?  These big questions parents have when they are new to my school or my way of thinking about math used to really challenge me.  As I have become more experienced and read more research on math education  I have been better prepared to answer these questions.  I like to show parents that it isn't MY way of teaching that I am going for but rather what the research says works.  
- I focus on the big mathematical ideas for that grade.  For each grade level I can think of 3-5 things that are the most important things kids have and understand in order for them to be successful in the next grade.  If a student is behind, I focus the conference on the most important skills and make sure my discussion focuses on how to move a student forward with these big ideas.

I sometimes have parents at conferences who want to be able to understand the math their kids are doing but need to brush up on their own skills or have a reference to use as their students' math gets more challenging.  I have several copies of these books that I lend to parent and also many parents who have purchased their own copies.

Grades 3-4
Grade 5
Grades 6-8

How do you get your math message out to parents during conferences?
Want to check out all 6 parts, here they are!
Part 1: Newsletters 
Part 2: Open House
Part 4: Homework

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