Monday, August 24, 2015

How can we support Math Talk in our classrooms?

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.
Focus: B.R.I.C.K.

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

Assessment for Inquiry by Darrin Burris

Tracy suggested Sheila Tobias' questionnaire about math myths

Teacher Talk Moves and Research Basis by Conceptua Math

Setting up Number Talks by Zones Math based on Sherry Parrish's book

Shared by Connie Hamilton during #TMChat

Shared by @EarlyMathTeach during #TMChat