I have recently been modelling a lot of number talks for new teachers in my schools. We often debrief on the strategies, key ideas and models that were used. Still there are seven key pages in the resource that I always direct teachers too that I think sometimes get overlooked. These pages can be very helpful to get teachers familiar with the structure of running a number talk and ways to get started.
These seven pages start on page 25 and end on page 31 and are part of Chapter 2: How to Prepare for Number Talks. The pages focus on how to keep students accountable and how to start with 5 small steps. See the pic below:
I am not going to describe each of the six ways to keep kids accountable or the five small steps for starting as I am sure you can read them. I will though list them and highlight a few that I think really stand out. Here we go!
Six Ways to Develop Accountability with Students
- Ask students to use finger signals to indicate the most efficient strategy.
- Keep records of problems posed and the corresponding student strategies.
- Hold small-group number talks throughout each week.
- Create and post strategy charts.
- Require students to solve an exit problem using the discussed strategies.
- Give a weekly computation assessment.
In her book each of these six ways has a description detailing what each one means, some are more self evident than others. I personally think number 2, 3 and 1 are super effective.
Number 1 allows you to get formative assessment on the spot about whom has clear idea about which strategies are more efficient. For example a problem like 28 + 39 has been done and the strategies on the board are: counting on, counting on from the larger or splitting/place value. You then ask the students to show 1 finger for counting on, 2 fingers for counting on from the larger number and 3 fingers for splitting. If the majority of your students hold up 1 finger for counting on as being the most efficient strategy then you quickly see you have some challenges!
Number 2 is often one that is overlooked in many classrooms. It is also the reason why I don’t like doing the recording and modelling of the number talk on the smartboard. Often when it is used the previous thinking and prompt are not visible once the new prompt in the string is put up. It takes away from the idea that the previous thinking can be used to help solve the new prompt and connect ideas. Leaving the student thinking up during the talk and then creating the strategy chart is key. I like using old school chart paper or VNPS whiteboards.
Number 3 is crucial to help get to those students that may be struggling with moving through the strategy development. Having a chance to do a number talk in a small group with them may be all they need to really move forward. It also gives students who may not share as much with the whole group a chance to share their thinking and have a math discussion with other students.
I believe all six are important but those three really stand out in my opinion.
Five Small Steps to getting Started
- Start with smaller problems to elicit thinking from multiple perspectives.
- Be prepared to offer a strategy from a previous student.
- It is alright to put another student’s strategy on the back burner.
- As a rule, limit your number talks to five to fifteen minutes.
- Be patient with yourself and your students as you incorporate number talks into your regular math time.
As with the last list I believe all these are important but I want to focus on 1, 2 and 3.
Number 1 is important to get people involved and to build confidence in sharing their strategies with the class. It’s also a way to differentiate the number talks, I sometimes add a smaller numbered problem into the string to give more students an opportunity to have a strategy even if their development may be closer to the beginning of the continuum of operational development. There is almost always a way to connect it to the rest of the string. Even if you are focusing the rest of the string on more challenging problems this a good way to start. For example if you are working on developing the key idea of the distributive property and you are ready to move on to help students leverage it when working with 2 digit numbers by 1 digit you could create a string like this:
2 x 5
5 x 5
10 x 5
12 x 5
Most students can enter in on the first 3 problems with strategies that are inefficient but it still allows them to share. They may make the connection from the earlier problems to 12 x 5 and begin to use the partial product strategy with 2 digit by 1 digit or they may need more time but they at least have a way to enter in to the number talk.
Number 2 I think is sometimes done but with the teacher jumping in to say how they may solve a problem. As she warns in the book, that is sometimes taken by the students to mean that is the way you want it done! Just shifting this slightly by saying you are modelling another students strategy from another class or year can shift the students mindset and start opening up the sharing of their own strategies.
Number 3 is one I often see teachers struggle with and one I still struggle with myself. When students start explaining their strategies sometimes it is very hard to decipher what they are saying and even harder to model it on the board. Don’t be afraid to put a strategy on the back burner or as Parrish says in her book politely tell the student you will meet them later in class to work through their strategy. This still honors their work but doesn’t slow the class conversation down.
I love revisiting resources and mining nuggets of information out that I may have not looked at as in depth the first few times through. There is so much information in the Number Talks book that it takes many visits to get to all of it. I hope these little nuggets may be useful to you!