I recently began participating in a nationwide book study for the book, Making Number Talks Matter, by Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker. Specifically, this book is geared toward grades 4 – 10.
Since I am reading the book and learning more about how to use number talks and emphasize strategic thinking in the classroom, I decided to pass that knowledge along to you. Each Wednesday, I plan to share some observations, reflections, and next steps with you.
Throughout my career as both an elementary and middle school math teacher and now as math coach, I see the struggles that our students have with basic computations. To see a student write down and solve 17 – 9 or 12 x 11 is disheartening. After many years of this, I started to wonder why our students struggle with basic computational thinking and why they do not have the flexibility necessary to manipulate these facts. Making Number Talks Matter addresses these questions and gives a framework for using successful number talks in the classroom.
What are number talks?
Number talks are daily routines that require students to demonstrate flexibility in working with numbers and solving basic problems without using paper and pencil to find the solution.
Where’s the value in doing number talks?
Besides building more confident math students, number talks require students to be flexible in their thinking about numbers and operations. In addition, students increase their ability to articulate their thinking and refine their mathematical communication skills through the use of number talks.
The chart below illustrates the basic flow of a number talk.
The authors suggest a few other key ideas for successful number talks:
1. Utilize wait time.
2. Ask “why.” Encourage students to use clear language to explain their thinking.
3. Encourage creativity– try to highlight a variety of strategies and probe students to think of alternative methods when few have been offered.
4. Listen to students’ responses asking for clarity when needed but careful not to reveal personal thoughts or opinions.
5. Use number talks regularly.
6. Encourage students to use content-specific vocabulary.
7. Record what students say. Exactly. Careful not to interpret the meaning of their words.
8. Encourage students to communicate with each other when questions arise or clarity is needed.
9. Encourage multiple answers to enhance the learning opportunities.
10. Encourage the use of clear communication skills.
11. Have an alternative problem just in case the chosen one goes awry.
12. Use caution when deciding to interject your thoughts.
13. Encourage students to use non-standard methods.
Reference: Humphreys, C and Parker, R. (2016). Making Number Talks Matter. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers