I Love Number Talks

IMG_7931 (1).JPGToday one of our students said, “I love number talks” as we were solving the second string of a counting on dot pattern to 10.  It really is crazy.  Our students have the attention spans of gnats, but when they sit down with their whiteboards for a number talk, they are completely enamored with solving and defending their problems and answers.  When I ask for defenses, hands shoot up all over the classroom…and not just my high achieving math students.  My struggling learners are some of the first hands to go up!

We actually had to change the routine to include student whiteboards so that each of them would feel heard (and we could quickly scan answers). We have 40 students in a combined classroom with two teachers (I teach math and Chelsey teaches reading). 

Our students were really into number talks, but they were easily frustrated if they weren’t called on to give their strategies and solutions, so we tried whiteboards to boost engagement. They use their whiteboards to show their thinking, but still use mental strategies to solve. Right now it is great because they are using dot images and ten frames. 

As we move into bare number tasks, there may need to be some additional discussion about usage of whiteboards. The great thing is that since my students are first graders, they haven’t been taught any algorithms yet (and won’t be by me) so even with whiteboards, the math is still strategy focused. 

In upper grades, I used to use http://www.todaysmeet.com to have students share strategies to boost engagement.

We use the book Number Talks for our question strings and many of the procedures set out in the book.  Our number talks are set up in this way:

  1. Pose an image or task – I pose a question by providing an image or numbeIMG_8152 (1).JPGr task.  Students think quietly and raise one finger for one strategy against their chest, 2 for two strategies, etc.
  2. Think Time – No one talks or raises their hand until I say “hands up for answers.”
  3. Answers Recorded – I write down every answer that is provided at the top of my chart whiteboard.
  4. Defend an Answer – I then ask students “who wants to defend one of these answers.”  It doesn’t have to be their answer, just an answer they can offer a proof or strategy for.  Students then come up to the board and write their solution under the number they are defending.  Sometimes this is in the form of a picture, a dot pattern, or a bare number task.  It can be a combination of any of these.  Prompts I might use are “Tell us about your picture.”  “Can you circle the groups you saw.” “How did you know that 5 and 3 was eight?”
  5. Name the Strategies – We then name the strategies.  Strategies include things like “counting on,” “doubles,” “making a ten,” “doubles minus one,” etc.
  6. Find and Discuss Mistakes – Another important aspect is our focus on mistakes.  When I show the card to reveal the answer after some proofs are offered.  We go back and look at the wrong answers to “grow our brain” by finding the mistakes and where the student might have went wrong.  This is absolutely the most powerful part of our number talk.  And the students who got the wrong answer have huge smiles on their faces when I ask them, “so do you know what you did or how to fix it?”  They eagerly nod their heads and fix their mistake.

Not once during a number talk do I offer words of praise.  I say things like:

  • “Oh, that is interesting, can you tell us more about that?”
  • “___ says it is 9 because he saw a group of four and a group of five.  Is that nine?  How do you know?”
  • “What strategy did ___ use here when he saw that it was one less than five and five more?”

img_8155-1Too often, we think that the best way to teach students to love learning is to shower them with praise.  I would have to say the exact opposite is true.  In order to teach kids to love learning, ask tough questions that make them think and question and defend and examine.  Involve them in every step of the process…and make it accessible.  Number Talks are one of the favorite times in our day.  I have kids yelling at me to “wait, don’t start yet! I just got here and I need to get my whiteboard.  Or I can’t find a marker.  Can you wait to start?”  They are begging me to allow them to engage in the entire math lesson.  What’s more powerful than that?

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