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Beginning the Discussion

August 29, 2017

For the past 11 years of my teaching career, I've worked hard to convert my boring-old math class into a student-centered, creative, thought exploratorium! And on some days, it all comes together and fulfills my highest expectations. But there's other days where it's not as robust, rigorous and engaging as I envisioned in my lesson plan. So I began constructing mathhooks.com to not only build my own class discussion tool box but to share it with others who are looking to convert their classrooms into places of inquiry and engagement. To keep things simple, here's a great article from Edutopia that can help with any lesson. It reminds me a great deal of my experiences promoting accountable talk in my classroom. What I would add to the "Powerful Questions Teachers Can Ask Students" is that these questions can also be asked of student's partners after a think-pair-share or group discussion. This wrinkle changes the questions from the articles to the following questions:


1. What did your partner think?

2. Why did they think that?

3. How did he/she know this?

4. Can you tell me more about your partner's thinking?

5. What further questions does your partner have?


There's a number of benefits to asking a student about their partner's thinking.


Pressure Release

By asking a student what their partner is thinking, you take the spot light off the student to be "right" or "wrong". Instead, they have to become a reporter. However, this doesn't mean the student simply parrots the words of their partner. A good reporter can summarize accurately, pick out important details of the discussion and make conjectures into their partner's thinking. All great skills to develop in math class and beyond. 


Increases Participation

When we as teachers stop asking questions that require right and wrong answers and instead focus on participation, we open the door to the entire class to share their voice. We no longer have to depend on the faithful few who always raise their hand. 



When students realize that they may be asked to report out, they become much more engaged in listening and participating in group discussions. By creating stronger group participants, we create stronger discussions which in turn create more robust solutions. In short, the learning gets a turbo boost through whole class engagement. 


Student Learning

When a student reports another student's ideas, the reporting student will internalize some of the information that he/she is reporting on. It's not to say a struggling student will completely grasp whatever concept is being discussed but hearing the ideas of their classmates and summarizing their own understanding will give them a big boost in confidence and comprehension.


Building a rigorous and successful student-centered classroom is not easy. But when we begin asking the right questions to all the students, the barriers of traditional classrooms begin to break down and a culture of learning together as a community begins to take hold. When this happens, boring-old math class becomes a whole new experience for everyone involved.


Here's a great video from the Teaching Channel of some other talk moves and ideas for generating discussion.

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