Math Talk in the Classroom

Facilitating quality math talk in the classroom is essential to promote student learning. However, this can be very challenging.

One cornerstone of effective math talk, is the ability to listen, question, paraphrase and learn from other students. Despite the fact that teachers create classroom norms and expectations around effective communication, students may be inadvertently reinforced to listen to the teacher only.

Why does this happen?

This could happen for a myriad of reasons, like the teacher feels pressure to complete the lesson in a set time frame, or an overwhelming need to cover too much content, not wanting to embarrass a student who has just shared a misconception, perhaps we as teachers feel pressure to teach the way we were taught, or maybe we just do not yet see the importance of focusing on what the students are saying vs what we are teaching. Therefore we don’t appropriately follow through with student thinking. Regardless of the reason, it is important to recognize what our own patterns are so that we can adequately identify the steps that we need to help create a Math Talk Community.

What is a Math Talk Community?

A math talk community is one where students play an active role in listening to their peers, engage in conversation about the math, and learn to give each other effective feedback. In this type of community, the onus moves from the teacher to paraphrase what students are thinking, to the students themselves to paraphrase and reiterate what someone else has said. It continues until all students are engaged and making connections. Students are encouraged to regularly use the vocabulary, learning goals available to personalize their own strategies, create representations, and ask questions of others in meaningful ways. In a math talk community, teachers use pedagogical strategies and supports to scaffold student learning, and help students to understand that they are not on their own, have the time and space to work with new and old ideas, and not merely rely on the teacher. Strategies can include, but not limited to:

  • Think-pair-feedback
  • Feedback dice or cards,
  • Whole class discussions during consolidation after minds-on, and action parts of a three-part lesson
  • Number Talks
  • Group work opportunities
  • Regular opportunities for students to paraphrase each other, ask questions
  • Visible vocabulary walls paired with visuals and frequent connections to them in a variety of new math learning settings
  • Reviewing and connecting regularly back to the the learning goals and success criteria
  • Co-created success criteria
  • Promoting effective questioning to other students and the teacher
  • Visually representing student thinking on the board
  • Keeping an idea going long enough to engage all students in the classroom

What happens when a Math Talk Community develops?

In a math talk community, much like a #feedbackfriendly Classroom, students learn more deeply. This is because the time, space, and opportunity are provided to get at any misconceptions. If misconceptions are not addressed, then we can run into problems because this is where students may get stuck understanding what to do to get better, begin to fake what they know, and develop fixed mindsets and negative views about their math learning.

Communication is such an important cornerstone of a math classroom. It is essential to develop math talk so that students can develop true conceptual understandings, and become flexible with strategies and ideas that can be applied to their math learning and the world around them.

What strategies do you use to cultivate math talk in your classroom?

Deborah McCallum



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