Math Conferences when Students are Stuck

It seems like feelings toward challenging math problems tend to lean toward extremes.  Students either really enjoy them or they really don’t.  Many of my goals for this year revolve around math, including helping students stay motivated, even when the problems get tough.  I’m working toward having a math class where students take on challenges with optimism and enthusiasm.

Today, I’d like to share some strategies I read about regarding conferring with students when they are stuck and aren’t sure where to start.

Strategies for math conferences when students are stuck

The focus of my professional reading this summer has been on helping students overcome obstacles when tackling tough math problems.  This year, I am going to model my approach to math conferences based on Catherine Fosnot’s awesome book, Conferring with Young Mathematicians at Work.  You can read more about this book on my post here.

I plan to start off the year with some discussion on appreciating and valuing math struggles.  Fosnot suggests using quotes from mathematicians to lead discussions on the value of “being stuck”.  I hope that some of these quotes will bring an understanding that even famous mathematicians get stuck.  In fact, that’s what keeps them going!

I created the poster below, and I plan on posting in on my wall where I have problem solving strategies.  If you’d like a copy, you can download it here.  You can find some more great quotes here.

Free poster to promote taking on challenges
In addition to whole group conversations, I want to carry out this love for a challenge to my conferences.  I definitely plan on using Fosnot’s suggestions for conferring with students who are stuck.  Below is a list of some of my favorite ideas from that chapter.
Strategies for Conferring with Students who are Stuck
*Agree that the problem is challenging.  This will help students view the teacher as part of the learning community.
*Remind students about of earlier conversations about how even famous mathematicians struggle.
*Focus on questioning for strategies over leading students to the correct answer.  These questions include ones like, “Does this problem remind you of a similar problem?”  Another open-ended question is, “What resources might help you solve this problem?”  My focus for these students will be to just get them started, whether that’s with numbers, words, or pictures.
*Acknowledge and celebrate any math that was done correctly.
*If the process seems to be going well, but the answer is incorrect, try saying something like, “Let’s make sure that we got that correct.”  Focus on the process.
*Review strategies from the beginning of the year.  (I made a presentation slide with a list of strategies.  You can see it below and download it here.)
Strategies for moving forward when students are stuck on a math problem
One more key idea to help students get through any roadblocks they have in math is to help them maintain a growth mindset.  This is something I will promote across the entire school day (and beyond).  I am  placing another poster on my math board to remind students that it’s not only okay to make a mistake, but it’s a very positive thing!  (You can download the poster here if you wish.)

Free Growth Mindset Poster

I will keep you posted on how these strategies are working.  Right now, I am going to continue my reading and resource gathering.  We just have 2 1/2 short weeks of summer left, so I’m definitely in “back to school mode”.

This posts shares strategies for math conferences when students are stuck.
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Teaching blogger for elementary teachers

Mary Wingert, licensed educator (K-12 Special Ed. & 1-8 General Ed)

I started teaching in 1993.   I have taught special education, fifth grade, and fourth grade.  I moved to second grade in 2015, and I am still there today.  

I believe in teaching strategies that are effective, differentiated, and engaging. I am looking forward to building a community of teachers who feels the same!  Read more here.