Talking in Math Class

January 23, 2012 at 1:19 pm Leave a comment

I’m keeping to my goal of reading at least 1 professional book per month, although it’s taken me a little longer than 1 month to complete this latest read.  Holidays and such kind of got me off track. My latest read titled, 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions written by Margaret S. Smith and Mary Kay Stein was recommended by NCTM.  I take recommendations from National Council of Teachers  of Mathematics  pretty serious, although I wouldn’t say that this read was one of my favs.  It is a fairly slim and quick read, but the vignettes were geared more towards secondary level teachers, and I deal mostly with elementary.  However, I would recommend the book because it clearly defines what “practices” are necessary in order to have more than just talk in math class, but true mathematical discussions.  Teaching is like organized IMPROV, and math discussions should be as well. Traditionally, teachers do not think there should be any dialogue or discussion about math, however I can tell you from my experience as a math coach, as well as my experience as a horrible child mathematician, talking is SO important to making sense of mathematics!  The 5 practices introduced in the book are:






Through careful  planning, teachers can anticipate how a mathematical task will be solved by students, as well as be prepared to clear up misconceptions before it’s too late. Monitoring student thinking as they work through a task helps ensure careful selection of who should share and who isn’t quite on the right track. By selecting specific student strategies to discuss teachers can keep the lesson focused on the understanding intended.  Sequencing student sharing of strategies helps to showcase the progression of learning that is possible.  If one group had a very concrete strategy, while another was more abstract, as a teacher you want to sequence those two groups to share so that all students can benefit from moving from the concrete to the abstract. Connecting student solutions allows for a complete understanding while giving students the opportunity to make their own connections from one solution to another.

All of these practices have to be strategic, planned, and well thought out. These practices take time to develop, and are easier to develop when one has collaborative teachers surrounding him/her. When I plan with teachers, I often tell them we’re rushing through the “process”, due to limited time I have to meet with teachers, but most times they truly benefit from the questions I ask to guide them in thinking through a  math task. Some say, “This takes too long.” My response to those is, “It takes a lot longer to undo the  misconceptions.”

This book is worth a read if you, yourself are developing as the conductor of great mathematical conversations.  Keep Talking!


Entry filed under: Professional Reads, Reflections.

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Kristen Hahn

January 2012
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