Stenhouse Blog Post: Using Student Work as an Anchor for Mathematical Discourse (Something to Talk About)

This blog post was published on the blog for Stenhouse Publishing, as part of a series on classroom discourse. You can read the complete post on the Stenhouse website.

While some brilliant discussions emerge spontaneously—happy accidents—productive conversations are more likely to happen when we plan for them deliberately.

Four Principles of Intentional Talk

I like to keep these Four Principles of Intentional Talk (from Elham Kazemi and Allison Hintz’s Intentional Talk) in mind:

  1. Discussions should achieve a mathematical goal, and different types of goals require planning and leading discussions differently.
  2. Students need to know what and how to share so their ideas are heard and are useful to others.
  3. Teachers need to orient students to one another and the mathematical ideas so that every member of the class is involved in achieving the mathematical goal.
  4. Teachers must communicate that all children are sense makers and that their ideas are valued.

These four principles are aspirational, but I think they’re also achievable. How do we bring them to life in the classroom?

The Power of Deliberately Selecting Student Work

When I first started teaching, I had a set routine for closing a student work session: I would ask everyone to bring their work to the rug—our classroom meeting spot—and place it down in front of them. “Now,” I would say, calmly drawing attention to myself. “Who would like to share their work?”

Sometimes, the shared work would launch a lively debate amongst the students. Did the class agree with everything Lucas said? However, if I’m being honest, it more often resulted in a series of dry mini-lectures, delivered by nervous 9-year-olds. Students talked at their classmates. These classmates may or may not have been more invested in the doodles creeping down the margin of their paper than in the person sharing. Rarely did this turn into true discourse.

Read More

To read the rest of this blog post, including a look inside a first grade classroom using student work to spark conversation, check out the Stenhouse blog.

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