3 Ways to Implement Talking in Math Class

by Le’Vada Gray, Director of Professional Learning
February 26th, 2020

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When I began teaching almost 20 years ago, one of the veteran teachers made a quick visit to the classroom that we shared to pick up materials. She was very impressed with my students’ behavior and remarked, “Wow, they are so quiet!” The veteran teacher’s comment was kind of funny to me because my students just happened to be quiet during her visit because we were transitioning into math, and the students were copying the lesson objective for the day. I smirked as she left the room because the rest of the time was NOT going to be quiet!

I learned early in my career that there was a belief that a “quiet classroom” was equivalent to a “good classroom or good teaching.” As I continued my career as a classroom teacher and coach, my beliefs changed. A productive classroom was not quiet because my students needed to be engaged in conversations about mathematical tasks and using manipulatives to record their thinking.

I support MATH 180 leaders and teachers with creating “noisy” classrooms where they can hear learning taking place. As soon as I walk into a MATH 180 classroom, I hear students’ talking about the mathematics in the Do Now at the beginning of the class or the latest game in Brain Arcade during the rotations in class.

During coaching sessions with leaders and teachers, I introduce them to a tool called Instructional Practices Inventory to discuss what an effective MATH 180 classroom sounds like:

  • Students explain their reasoning.
  • Students listen and ask questions of each other to clarify information and respectfully challenge ideas.
  • Teachers ask questions that both build and reveal new understanding of content and practice.
  • Students communicate using appropriate mathematical language both orally and in writing.

At the beginning of the program, I encourage teachers to engage students in rich discourse about learning mindsets and recommend specific instructional routines that they can practice during the First Two Weeks before small group instruction begins.

One of my colleagues, Patty Clark said, “Meaningful mathematical discourse has a positive effect on students’ understanding as they increase the connections between ideas and representations.”

The instructional routines embedded in the MATH 180 program are designed to support teachers with engaging students in meaningful conversations. Three of the instructional routines that encourage discourse include:

  • Turn & Talk: a two-minute routine that gives students an opportunity to explain their solutions and respond to their partners’ reasoning.
  • Answers Up: a routine in which all students are expected to participate by showing their answers on a personal whiteboard. Students share their thinking about their answers whether they are correct or not.
  • Question Chains: another routine that supports multiple students in a whole class discussion. Students practice using appropriate academic and mathematical language when they respond to a question posed by the teacher.

Implementing instructional routines to increase mathematical discourse is so important for ALL students to feel safe to take risks and learn from their peers. I always spent time throughout the year building the learning environment with my students. I asked them to share what they needed to be successful. I taught them how to engage in discourse to develop their mathematical thinking and mathematical language. I continue my practice when I’m supporting MATH 180 teachers and leaders with how to engage all students in explaining their reasoning and listening to other students’ thinking.


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