Mathematical Discourse: A Matter of Sharing and Questioning

There are countless motivational and inspirational quotes about the power of group dialogue and collective thinking. When done right, collaboration amongst a group should result in reaching effective solutions. Part of the process includes recognizing that there may be multiple paths to a solution, and that some are viable and some are simply ineffective. There is great power in many minds coming together. What if these notions can apply to productive mathematical discourse?

Curriculum Associates’ latest white paper, Selecting and Sequencing Student Solutionsauthored by Gladis Kersaint, Dean of the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut–outlines strategies educators can use to promote collaborative math discourse amongst students and between teachers and students in the context of Stein and Smith’s five practices that promote classroom discussion.

She emphasizes three phases a teacher must work through even before engaging in Stein and Smith’s five practices: planning, selecting and sequencing.

1. Planning for Productive Mathematics Discussions – a teacher must strategically plan for tasks and problems conducive to discussion. In math, these are tasks which are approachable from varying levels of understanding and learning styles. In planning, teachers must anticipate the different approaches students will use in solving a problem.

2. Selecting Student Work for Classroom Discussion – a teacher must decide what ideas and which students are best suited for an effectively facilitated discussion. This means knowing students and their personal strengths, and establishing a commitment to coaching, validating and commending them for the role they play in the classroom. During the selection process, a teacher must assess the necessity of demonstrating erroneous approaches, discussing differing or similar strategies, and/or expanding the discussion through further questioning.

3. Sequencing Student Work to Support Meaningful Classroom Discussion – a teacher must strategically arrange the student presentations, determining whether it is beneficial to highlight erroneous thinking and common misconceptions, to increase the level of complexity in thinking, and/or to sequence less common to more common approaches. Proper sequencing allows for students to respond to thought-provoking questions that require them to agree or disagree, to compare and contrast, to analyze continuity between the question and answer, to determine the level of efficiency of differing solutions, and to consider the thought processes of his or her peers.

A teacher can best plan for, select and sequence classroom discussions by considering key questions such as the following:

When a math classroom has a culture of sharing mathematical thinking and solution strategies, students learn as a collective group, and simply put, “When students share, discuss, and compare strategies, teachers have greater insight into students’ thinking.”

With a careful and deliberate approach, teachers have the opportunity to enhance students’ mathematical development through appropriate, next-level questioning.

Want to learn more? Register for Selecting and Sequencing Student Solutions for Productive Math Discourse with author Gladis Kersaint on April 17th.

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The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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Laura Schmalhofer

Mathematical discourse

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