How do we bring as many students as possible into math conversations?
The prerequisite to this post is that we value math conversations in classrooms. This blog post (and those that follow) will mean nothing if you don't value students having conversations about the math they are learning. For the record, let me clarify that math conversations do not include teachers talking at students for the entire class period (or math block). That's not a conversation. A conversation requires give and take, where all included parties have a chance to contribute.
I think of it like this: you're with a group of friends and it's time to go to lunch. If one person says, "we're going to Restaurant A." then there wasn't a conversation that took place about where to go to lunch. None of the friends shared their preference or had the opportunity to provide input or convince the rest of the group of a place to eat lunch. On the other hand, one friend might want Restaurant A, another wants Restaurant B, and a few other friends want Restaurant C. The group of friends begin to have a conversation around which restaurant might be best. Each party provides their reasoning or proposes questions. There's a give and take where everyone has voiced their opinion and/or choice.
In the classroom, a math conversation requires a give and take. It could be student-to-student, student-to-teacher, students-to-students, and even a back and forth between the teacher and whole group. So how do we bring as many students as possible into the math conversation? Here are a few ideas I've been playing around with this year. Some might surprise you, and some might not:
- When designing a lesson, value the thought, "It's easier to add than subtract."
- Using the prompts, "Tell me everything you know about this." and "Tell a neighbor everything you know about this."
- Use estimation with as many math questions as possible by focusing on a reasonable range.