This Math Was Made for Talking: Targeting Math Discussions

As a visiting teacher, I love to ask students what they think a “number talk” might be. It’s usually silent at first, and then a brave soul will say something like, “Is it when you talk…about numbers?” Their faces light up when that profound idea is confirmed. I have been in countless elementary and middle school classrooms in the last few years both observing and facilitating Number Talks (Sherry Parrish, 2010), and I am part of an amazing team that has trained over 1,000 teachers on their implementation since 2013. Number talks are changing how teachers and students interact with mathematics by opening up the discourse in the classroom to more than just a volley between teacher, student, teacher, student. They invite students to construct and consider multiple strategies for a single problem or string of related problems, and serve as formative assessment for teachers who want to know how their students are thinking about a problem. While these “open strategy sharing” conversations are valuable in themselves, they also provide us with an opportunity to design a more targeted follow-up discussion based on student strategies. This idea comes from Elham Kazemi and Allison Hintz, authors of Intentional Talk: How to Structure and Lead Productive Mathematical Discussions (2014).

What does this look like in a classroom? Here’s an example of a poster from a number talk in a 2nd grade class:

Students used many different strategies for finding sums of expressions with three addends (the expressions above in blue). In the first problem, Yisel used a sum she knew (5+7=12), and then counted on from 12 (12+3) to get a sum of 15, while Johan made a ten from two of the addends (7+3=10) and then composed 15 from 10 and 5. The teacher shared with our team that making a ten had been a huge focus of their most recent work with addition strategies, and we saw an opportunity to invite students to more closely examine the counting on and making ten strategies. We designed a “Compare and Connect” discussion (Kazemi and Hintz, 2014) to take back to this class, and asked students, how are these strategies alike and how are they different?

By re-engaging students in their own strategies, we were able to target our discussion and support more students in considering a higher level strategy for adding. We finished up with an exit task to see what strategies students would use after our discussion.  18 out of 24 students made a ten! 

Come learn more about targeting math discussions at:

  • CMC North in Asilomar, CA (Session #258 This Math Was Made for Talking: Targeting Math Discussions) on Saturday, December 3 from 9:30-10:30 at Pacific Grove Middle School, Room 23
  • NCSM Annual in San Antonio (Session #114, Monday, April 3 from 11:15-12:15)
  • NCTM Annual in San Antonio (Session #473, Friday, April 7 from 12:30-1:30 at the Grand Hyatt, San Antonio in Crocket AB)


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