Musings and Strategies From the Teachers Next Door

Number Talks

coffee        I am getting ready this morning to attend “Number Talks” training in preparation for the coming school year. As I am drinking my coffee, I am reflecting over  last year and my attempt at number talks. While my effort was commendable, the outcome was lukewarm. I have pondered for hours (collectively) over why that is. Why can’t our kids talk about numbers? Why can they only explain their strategy as being, “Well, I lined up the numbers in my head. I started in the ones place, and carried/borrowed….” or, “Well, I multiplied the ones and then put my place holder…” We have drilled this type of math for so long that this seems the only suitable/acceptable way of “doing math”. 

     This year, starting at the very beginning, we will focus on how to discuss numbers. Though none of my students are ELL, they still struggle with discussing in ELA class, so interacting with peers about numbers really trips them up. I found this blog post in my early morning web surfing session. Starting simple with what the author calls “string starters” (number talk starters) will help facilitate students in learning to talk about numbers.

So, posters…I need posters.

I think this will really help! What I like about these starters:

“My answer is________________________.”

“My strategy is_______________________.”

is that all students can start here. They will all have an answer whether it is correct or not. They will all have a manner in which they came to that answer. We are on a level playing field. Then we can make it more complex with

I thought about it this way: _____________________________________________________.

I agree with _______________ because _________________________.

I disagree with _______________ because ________________________.

I want to revise my answer because ____________________________.

I have to admit, the most exciting aspect of the latter string starters is the option to revise their answer! When they learn from a peer in a manner that helps them see a mistake or a missed step, that is HUGE! Students making their own meaning, their own connections of how to think about and work with numbers is what Number Talks are all about. And it’s ok to make mistakes. We learn best through them.

Another coffee-induced thought: No one ever mentions that you have to be fast to get the answer to a number string or a number talk. Somehow speed became synonymous with “doing math”. How did that happen? Think about it. How many school math improvement plans include speed drills?

But that is a post for another day.


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