Math Discourse in Your Classroom

Having discussions with students is how most teaching is done. Classroom discourse in a mathematics classroom, for example, means having whole-class discussions around mathematics in such a way that students get to express their conceptual math understanding through reasoning, debate, and an exchange of ideas. Leading and engaging students in this form of instructional arrangement is a great way to help them informally assess their mathematical thinking. Knowing how to reason, think spatially, think critically, and problem solve for understanding can be promoted through mathematical discourse.

Shifting to a mindset that embraces the ways in which twenty-first century students have to engage fully with mathematics is what teachers are being asked to do. I encourage teachers to take time to read books, articles, and have conversations about how to engage in and use discourse in the classroom with colleagues. It will better prepare you for facilitating good math discussions with students. I just finished reading a newly published white paper by Gladis Kersaint titled “Selecting and Sequencing Student Solutions.” In it, she shares great tools for planning and engaging students in productive mathematics discussions. Here are three questions she shares that you may want to use to ask yourself ahead of having the discussions with your student:

  1. What is the intent of the discourse we will engage in?
  2. What are the class norms for mathematical discourse?
  3. What understanding do I want my students to develop?

Once you know have answered those questions then you can focus on what Kersaint explains are the five practices that are helpful in promoting good discussions. They are:

  1. Anticipating – how do you envision the discussion to go
  2. Monitoring – how did the students do in their prior work
  3. Selecting – let selected students know they will be asked questions during the discussion
  4. Sequencing – in what order you ask questions
  5. Connecting – synthesize the discussion at its conclusion

Asking yourself these important questions before engaging students in mathematical discourse will help you to focus on your math class goals. With your goals in mind, you can plan out how to follow the discourse practices. Discourse that is planned and facilitated well allows students to express their thoughts and reasoning behind their mathematical thinking. I would be happy to know how you “talk math” in your classroom.


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