What words come to mind to describe how you were taught math?
What words do you want your students to use to describe math class? ...EXPLORE
A Number Talk is a daily 10-15 minute routine that occurs outside of the math block. The goal is to develop accuracy, efficiency, and flexibility when solving computational problems using purposeful conversations. Students work to make their thinking visible when presenting and justifying solutions to problems they solve mentally.
There are several suggestions to successfully begin a Number Talk:
- Establish a meeting area that allows close proximity to students and opportunities for informal observations and interactions.
- Use intentional wait time to allow a majority of the students to access the problem before discussions begin. This can help eliminate the misconception that many students have about math where they think they are not "good" at math because they are not quick.
- Encourage the use of hand signals to engage ALL students. This can bring equity to the math classroom and encourage those that know the answer to continue to think and problem solve in different ways. Recommended hand signals include a fist to the chest when the problem is posed. This signals thinking, which everyone should be doing. As students begin to mentally establish an answer to the problem, they will put their thumbs up. Students are then encouraged to continue thinking about different ways to solve the problem and put a finger up for each different strategy they discover. We do not reward speed. We encourage all students to think and keep thinking about mathematical relationships.
- Respect, accept, and consider all answers. This act supports building a classroom learning environment that is based on respect and encourages risk-taking. Many times wrong answers are linked to misconceptions. Students need to feel comfortable sharing all answers so we can help students correct thinking that may be tripping them up. It is important for teachers to keep a "blank face" and not give any verbal or nonverbal indication of correct/incorrect answers as all possibilities are recorded. This takes practice for the teacher but encourages students to stop relying on the adult for the source of knowledge. Students become equipped to defend their thinking behind solutions as they prepare to defend or politely disagree with given answers.
- Communication occurs throughout the Number Talk. Students share their strategies, respond to other's strategies, think on their own, and turn and talk. It is also important that students articulate their thinking and reasoning in their own words. This act allows students to reconsider their own ideas in order to self-correct or clarify their understanding as needed.
- Start small! Pose easier problems to allow thinking from multiple perspectives. For example think of all the ways to mentally solve 5+6 that can be modeled and recorded: doubles +1, make a quick ten, counting on, counting all. To encourage efficiency, there can also be discussion around the most efficient strategy to solve this basic math fact. (Remember--efficiency will be different for each student. What I find to be the most efficient may not hold true for every student.)
- Facilitate new thinking. If students do not consider a new strategy that you want to teach them, present it as one that was suggested by a previous student and allow students to agree with and defend (or disagree providing evidence) to the strategy and answer. This will again prevent the teacher from being the source of the answer and provide some students with a place to enter the conversation. Be considerate of what is worth telling a student and what they are capable of discovering and putting words to themselves.
- When a student's response seems to miss the mark, it is okay to circle the strategy and tell the student you need more time to think about the solution. This will honor the student's thinking while not slowing down the conversation. If needed, you can meet privately with the student to work through their thinking individually.
- Limit the Number Talk to 5-15 minutes. Set a timer and be responsible to the students' thinking.
- Remember to be patient with yourself as you learn WITH your students. The question "Does it make sense?" will become a staple comment in your classroom.
For more information on Number Talks, see this article: Number Talks Build Numerical Reasoning, by Sherry Parrish.