For the past couple of years, I have been working with a colleague to support local districts interested in improving student-communication during K-8 mathematics lessons [Math Talk]. We do not have an agenda related to a particular curriculum. We are not pushing any method. Our goal is simple: provide assistance, whatever that may be, to elementary and middle school teachers trying to increase productive mathematical conversations in their classrooms.
After a recent professional development day, participants were asked for suggestions for future workshops. One theme that arose, was the need for support establishing classroom norms around Math Talk. For example:
- Specific ways to implement the math talk norms in class.
- Establishing safe atmosphere/learning environment
As university math educators, we have resources (research, time, technology ...) that K-8 teachers might lack. Given the teachers' request for support around Math Talk Norms, we went about trying to find and consolidate resources the teachers might find useful. This included putting a call out on Twitter. Below is the workshop that resulted from our efforts.
[The workshop focuses on the Thinking Together resources provided by the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education.]
How do we support Math Talk in our classrooms?
Schema Activation: Talking Points Process (from last time)
- You are naturally good at talking, or not, and nothing can be done about it.
- If you help people solve problems in class, it’s cheating.
- Everyone can learn how to be part of a learning conversation.
Because we are trying to avoid suggesting a particular set of norms, we focus instead on a process we and other teachers have found helpful. As you are thinking about developing Math Talk Norms (or any norms, for that matter), developing a solid foundation - a brick, as it were - can come in handy. These are in no particular order, except to make the acronym work, of course.
- Keep your contributions brief: I told my middle school students that my classroom expectations were basically respect and responsibility. Respect in the way we communicated with each other. Responsibility for being prepared to participate.
- Role-play how Math Talk does and does not look: We often think Math Talk is natural. It is not. Students will need examples and non-examples. I used scripts, like these, to support students' development as math talkers.
- Incremental efforts: Learning takes time. Accept that changes to the way students communicate during math lessons requires a long term commitment and ongoing adjustments. You might need to revisit the norms after a break or when new issues arise.
- Connected to other content areas: Teachers in other disciplines might already being using communication norms in their classrooms. Don't hesitate to build on their work. For example, elementary teachers often use ideas from The 2 Sisters (ideas like role-playing) to foster productive literacy discussions.
- Involve your kids in the development of the norms: "Buy-in" is an important part of the success of your norms. Students who believe that they have had a voice in the development of the norms find it easier to follow the expectations. This does not mean giving up complete control - your brief expectations ought to somehow be incorporated.
Activity: Do you need a Model, a Mentor, or a Monitor?
Monitor: Do you think you have an idea of what developing Math Talk Norms looks like? Then the resource we offer is time and a listening ear.
Mentor: Do you think you have some general ideas but need some support? Then one of us will collaborate with you to develop a plan.
Model: Are you stuck with what to do next? Do you need a demonstration? Then we will provide examples related to our focus. We have not used these example eourselves. We are hoping you'll help us to consider how they might work.
Reflection: Monitoring Sheet
Create a 5-by-5 grid modeled after this Talk Tally Sheet
Along the top, write the numbers 1 through 4 in the rightmost cells. On the side, identify four types of talk that you believe represent elements of productive Math Talk.
Extensions: Evaluate these other resources on Math Talk Norms shared via Twitter
From Kristin Gray:
Assessment for Inquiry by Darrin Burris
Tracy suggested Sheila Tobias' questionnaire about math myths
Shared by @EarlyMathTeach during #TMChat