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NYC Helpline: How To: Teach Math
Talking to Parents about Struggling Mathematicians
Sarah Picard Taylor

As parent teacher conferences draw near, many teachers feel a little anxious when faced with the difficult talk of telling a parent that their child is struggling to gain control over mathematical concepts.  This how-to is meant to help you plan for those difficult conversations so they will feel productive and helpful to parents as well as yourself.

First, identify which area(s) are giving the student difficulty.  It is helpful to refer to state standards when describing this to parents.  You can find your state’s standards on-line at websites like the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics at http://nctm.org/standards/

Second, when you describe the standard that the student is struggling to master, provide work samples or anecdotal notes you took while watching the child engaged in his/her work.   These specific examples can make your point simple and clear.  Remember, you know a lot about the teaching of mathematics and sometimes our teacher-ese language is hard for others to understand.  Be as clear as you can.

Next, make a plan for you and the parents to work together to support the student.  Explain how you will continue to work on this standard within your lessons in upcoming units of study.  You might plan to meet with this student and other struggling students in a small group during the math student work time three times each week over the next six weeks.  Or you might recommend special support services that your school provides.  Suggest extended day or after school classes if they are necessary and have the paperwork available at this meeting for parents to take home and sign.  Ask the parents if they can support their child at home.  Be ready to send home a small bag of manipulatives and/or fun family math games that are a part of your curriculum already.  Don’t let this meeting end without making a plan.  Set your goals and articulate how you, the student, and the parents will participate in the plan.  This will help everyone to feel positive about the meeting.

Finally, if you want to pass on extra math resources to parents, you can mention the book, Beyond Facts and Flashcards: Exploring Math with Your Kids
A description of this text is at http://terc.edu/work/612.html and the book can be purchased at http://heinemann.com/

See also the How to Work with Students' Families page.


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