Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fostering Math Talk in the Elementary Classroom

Dr. Karen Fuson is the Researcher/Author of “Math Expressions.” She looked around the world at higher performing countries to see how they are teaching math. This session started with a slide that showed the average math lesson with teacher talk in the U.S. and China. The U.S. teacher’s ratio was 2/3rd teacher talk and 1/3rd student talk. The Chinese results were the opposite – little teacher talk and much more student talk.

What is Math Talk? The National Council for Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) emphasizes the need for students to discuss their mathematical thinking as a way to increase understanding. It is more than having students take turns telling about their problem solving methods or participate in undirected talk rather than actually analyzing and comparing methods. Teachers should help students move along a learning path toward more effective methods of problem solving.

The components of the Math Talk Learning Community are: questioning, explaining mathematical thinking, source of math ideas, and responsibility for learning.

A. Questioning – There is a shift from the teacher as questioner to the students and teacher as questioners.

B. Explaining math thinking – The students increasingly explain and articulate their math ideas.

C. Source of math ideas – A shift from the teacher as the source of all math ideas to students’ ideas also influencing the direction of the lessons.

D. Responsibility for learning –The students increasingly take responsibility for learning and evaluation of others and of themselves. Math sense becomes the criterion for evaluation.

The question of “Is it language or is it Math?” evolved from how a problem is presented. Teachers should model the math, model math talk, stand to the side, and bite their tongue (let students solve, explain, and question.) This was an interesting session that approached math as a scientific discovery model.

Written by: Maria Mallon


KK Cherney said...

This is so exciting. I have sat in on some our CCE lessons and I always walk away saying to myself,"How did he/she do that?"
I remember the day when we couldn't ask a question because it meant we were not listening.

dayle timmons said...

This idea of math talking reminds of what has happened in ELA. When we gave children a chance to really talk about what they were thinking, it made all the difference - the same is true in Math. i see it all the time in the math classes that i observe at CCE - the level of conversation in Math just blows me away. Great post Maria!

Anonymous said...


I know a good day of math teaching has happened when I do very little talking. The conversations that my 5th graders are capable of is nothing short of amazing.

If any middle school teacher is reading this, please let the kids' thoughts and conversations drive the instruction.

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