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Math Talk: What is it? Why do we need it?

Math talk is a popular term in the math community right now. But what is math talk and how is it used in the classroom? Today’s post helps teachers understand the purpose of math talk and how to use it effectively in the classroom with students.

This is the blog title: What is Math Talk?

When I was in grad school a few years back, I became intrigued with the idea of mathematical discourse. I’ll admit, back then, I really had no idea what the term meant. At the time, it sounded complicated, so I decided to do some research to gain a better understanding. What I discovered is that mathematical discourse is a fancy way to say math talk– something with which I was very familiar. This got me thinking though. Do all teachers know what math talk is and how to use it in the classroom? If you’re shaking your head right now, you’ve come to the right place. Today’s post will answer those questions and help you get started using math talk in the classroom.

What is Math Talk? Why is it Important?

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics states:

Effective teaching of mathematics facilitates discourse among students to build shared understanding of mathematical ideas by analyzing and comparing student approaches and arguments (NCTM, 2014, p. 29).

That means it is essential to get our students talking about math! I know, I know, we already do that, but how much and how often? A successful mathematics program emphasizes communicating mathematically frequently in the classroom. In addition, The Common Core State Standards, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, and many other state standards include competencies related to communicating effectively through mathematical language, justifying solutions, and evaluating the mathematical thinking of others.

What does Math Talk Look Like and Sound Like in the Classroom? 

What are teachers doing?

  • Encouraging students to share ideas, solutions, and justifications.
  • Intentionally selecting and sequencing student solutions and strategies for discussion.
  • Facilitating mathematical discourse while encouraging students to explain and defend their ideas.
  • Connecting, comparing, and contrasting student approaches.
  • Using “wait time” to support student thinking and encourage deep thought.
  • Guiding student responses to stay focused on the topic.
  • Using mistakes as springboards for discussion and learning.

What are students doing?

  • Sharing ideas, solutions, and strategies with partners, small groups, or the class as a whole.
  • Listening to and critiquing the work and reasoning of others, using examples and counterexamples to support their words.
  • Asking questions to clarify understanding.
  • Trying new approaches.
  • Reflecting on the ideas of others.
  • Comparing, contrasting, and connecting their ideas with other students’ ideas.
  • Working collaboratively, as a community of learners, to support each other.
  • Repeating, summarizing, rephrasing, translating, and building on the thinking of others.

Building a Community of Learners

In order for math talk to be successful, students must understand how to collaborate fairly and hold a respectful exchange of ideas. Before implementing math talk in the classroom, brainstorm a list of classroom norms for how community members will participate and behave during the discussion. See the picture below for an example of math talk norms.

This image shows an example of math talk expectations.

Want to know more about building a community of learners? Click here!

Next Steps

Let’s talk! For the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing ways to get your students communicating mathematically. Stay tuned for next week’s post. Until then, review the suggested strategies for building a community of learners in your classroom and create a set of norms for your math community. This will make math talk much more comfortable and effective for all.

Want to know more about math talk right now? Then, check out this article I wrote for Rachel Lynette’s Minds in Bloom.

Sound Off! What does math talk look and sound like in your classroom?

Respond in the comments section below.

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Reference: NCTM. (2014). Principles to actions: Ensuring mathematical success for all. Reston, VA : National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Shametria Routt Banks

Shametria Routt Banks

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