The Ultimate Guide to Teaching with Mathematical Discourse | Part 2

Posted by Lindsey Sönmez on January 21, 2020

Last week, we discussed the “what” and “why” of using intentional discourse in the math instruction. Now, we’ll provide you with actionable tips and expectations to take into your classroom that will create a positive learning experience for both you and your students. 

How to Improve Mathematical Discourse

By now you understand the benefits of incorporating intentional discourse into your math classroom. But what will that actually look like? How do you get started?

We suggest that you get your feet wet with one of the following methods next time you introduce a new type of math problem: 

  • Wait time. Make sure to allow your students enough time to think through a problem before opening up to the class for discussion.
  • Question stems. Help your students formulate their thoughts by using question stems that foster critical thinking. Below are a few examples:
    • What would happen if ___?
    • What do you notice about ___?
    • Are there any differences between___ and ___?
    • Why did you choose ___?
    • How are your strategies similar? different?
    • How does ___ connect to what you've learned before?
  • Turn-and-talk. Give your students a set amount of time to think, then a set amount of time to share with a partner. Allow them to jot down their ideas and thoughts, and scaffold the discourse.
  • Think-pair-share. Similar to a turn-and-talk, but after sharing with their partners, the conversation opens up to the whole classroom. 
  • Guided questioning. Listen to your students’ conversations and guide their thinking through questioning to prevent a free-for-all.
  • Build on shared ideas. Connect your students’ thinking by building on shared ideas that are already familiar to the classroom (adding-on, rephrasing, restating etc), and invite students to do the same.

    teaching with intentional discourse

What to Expect

Frustration. Discourse can be tough. Having to work through the problem using verbal or written communication can cause a lot of frustration for some students. So in order to get results, you’ll need to be ready with strong classroom management skills and a willingness to guide your students toward the answers, rather than giving them away. Remember, that productive struggle is exactly what allows your students to learn important reasoning skills.

Moments of failure. We all have those students who quickly catch onto new concepts with little effort. However, when incorporating discourse into your classroom, these typically successful students might experience moments of failure—an unusual occurrence that might cause them hurt feelings. It’s important to get comfortable with a longer wait-time, maintain your consistency, and be purposeful with your teachings.

Once you’ve prepared yourself for what to expect, ease in with one of the above-mentioned tactics. Then, you can slowly incorporate more and more discourse into your math classroom, and even establish regular number talks, math stations, or guided math groups when you feel ready. Then bid farewell to your stack of worksheets and flashcards for good. 

Now, let the learning begin!

How do you plan to use intentional discourse in your math classroom? What strategies do you think will work best for your students?

Topics: intentional discourse, math