So, what is common in classrooms with high achieving students? One practice that has "stuck out like a sore thumb" for me over the last few weeks is allowing students opportunities to engage in mathematical dialogue. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards states that "Accomplished teachers deliberately structure opportunities for students to use and develop appropriate mathematical discourse as they reason and solve problems. These teachers give student opportunities to talk with one another, work together in solving problems, and use both written and oral discourse to describe and discuss their mathematical thinking and understanding." In classrooms where students are struggling with math, I ask that teachers reflect on the day and/or week, by asking: 1. Have my students had time to engage in "math talk" during my class? 2. Have I intentionally planned for "math talk" today or this week? and 3. How do I know that each student has engaged in "math talk" this day/week?
One lesson I learned as a classroom teacher was that arranging students in groups (close proximity) did not automatically mean that they would have meaningful learning dialogue. I can remember giving students a group assignment and saying, "be sure to talk with your group members and give feedback." But, now I am sure that students were thinking to themselves, "what does she mean or what should I be saying or asking?" While preparing for National Board Certification, I learned that this communication skill must also be modeled and taught. In my research to offer assistance with this in my schools, I took several of the "starter phrases" and put them together in card form so each pair of students can have readily available examples of how to have "math talk" when they are defending their work to come to a consensus. Here are 3 examples of the 16 cards that are held together nicely with a small ring binder. Click here if you would like to download the entire set.