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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Conference Time!

We are 7 weeks into the school year and gearing up for parent teacher conferences later this week.  In our school, we try to schedule all conferences on a Thursday evening or Friday morning.  This way if multiple folks need to be involved in the conference, we are all in the building at the same time. The evening hours also work much better for parents.  

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.

This year, in addition to my role as a math specialist (part interventionist and part coach), I have 2 groups of students that I am doing the primary math instruction for.  This means that I will hopefully get to meet with the parents of kids in these groups because their classroom teachers don't see them for math.  To help out with ones I might miss and to keep the classroom teachers up to speed on what their students are doing in math, I have been gathering data and putting together some things that can be shared with parents.  One of the things I created for my fourth grade group was this quick reflection on their learning.  I loved seeing their responses and it gave me great information about how they are feeling about math!

Want to use this with your students?  Click on the picture to get it from Google Drive.