When I was in school, I was never asked what I knew, what I thought about, or how I processed mathematical information. I’m happy that this is different today and that valuing mathematical communication in today’s classrooms is recognized as important. Better known as mathematical discourse, whole-class discussions where students talk about mathematics can reveal their understanding of concepts. We owe it to our students to be curious and inquisitive about what they know or don’t know about their mathematics. Are you having conversations with your students about math?
Educators have the opportunity and privilege of teaching students how to participate in meaningful mathematical discourse. How do we begin? The opportunity for discourse starts by presenting students with, and engaging them in, rich mathematical tasks. Rich math tasks focus students’ attention on mathematical ideas and allow for the development/use of the mathematical habits of mind. Rich math tasks are not memorized procedures and facts, but engaging and powerful experiences. Teachers are no longer simply the transmitters of knowledge.
I suggest you set a goal for engaging your students in discourse, then formulate a plan to accomplish your goal. Questions keep students engaged and prompt them to think more deeply while the discourse happens organically. As part of your plan, I recommend that you craft a list of readily available questions to ask students in any situation. Here are some suggested questions:
- Can you convince the rest of us that your answer makes sense?
- Is this a reasonable answer?
- How did you think about the problem?
- What is another way you could have solved this problem?
- How did you reach that conclusion?
- How did you organize your information? Your thinking?
- Which skills or concepts did you use?
- What were the mathematical ideas in this problem?
Plan time to reflect on how the mathematical discussions have gone in your classroom. Check on the progress your students have made. Think about the student learning that is occurring. Revisit and revise your questions based on your reflections. I would like to hear your ideas about mathematical discourse in your class(es).