Guest post by Marianne Stapleton: Assistant Head of Lower School

If  you pass through any Lower School center or classroom during math time, you will immediately notice the low hum of student voices. Yes, there is talking during math class! My memories of elementary school math classes are much different than what our students are experiencing today. I worked in complete silence – just me and page after page of problems to solve…all by myself.

We now know that students learn best when there is talking involved. Elizabeth A. City, from the Harvard Graduate School of Education shared her thoughts on the importance of conversations in the classroom:

“Talking matters for learning. Although it’s possible to think without talking – and to talk without much thinking – each can strengthen the other. Talking also provides windows into what students are learning. I want schools to be places of rich learning, and therefore I want them to be places of rich talk” City, E. (2014, November). Talking to learn. Educational Leadership, 72 (3), 10-16.

Lower School teachers recently participated in a professional development session designed to introduce them to a tool for encouraging productive talk in the mathematics classroom. During this workshop, teachers had the opportunity to assume the role of students while participating in a variety of Number Talks.

A Number Talk is defined as a “…short, ongoing daily routine that provides students with meaningful ongoing practice with computation” (Math Perspectives, 2007).

Number Talks help students strengthen mental math skills and build “computational fluency.” Teachers present a problem to the class or a small group, and they are given some time to arrive at an answer independently. Several students are then selected to share their answers and explain their thinking to their classmates. Finally, after considering several different perspectives, the class comes to an agreement on the answer that is correct. These kinds of experiences encourage students to take risks in a supportive environment. They gain confidence in thinking, listening, and talking about numbers.

Click the links below to get a glimpse inside some Lower School classrooms where you can see Number Talks in action:

As these examples demonstrate, children of all ages can successfully participate in Number Talks once the routines have been established. The expectation is for every student to be engaged in solving the problem and to be active listeners as classmates share the different strategies they used to arrive at an answer. Students have an opportunity to assume ownership of the learning that takes place as they share their thinking. The teacher’s role is to help guide the conversations by asking clarifying questions and recording each student’s thought processes for the group.

The National Council for Teachers of Mathematics reports that students display computational fluency “…when they demonstrate flexibility in the computational methods they choose, understand and can explain these methods, and produce accurate answers efficiently” (Principal and Standards for School Mathematics, NCTM, Reston, VA 2000, p. 152).

Number Talks help foster the development of this important skill for our Lower School students in a learning environment that is founded on the power of collaboration and conversations in the mathematics classroom.

Special thanks to Mrs. Mark, Mrs. Lewis, and students, Mrs. Fordham (videographer)



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