- Why is it important to build a sense of community within our math classes?
- How can we help students learn how to learn together?
- Why is the ability to learn with and from others important?
At the TeachingWorks Elementary Mathematics Laboratory*, Dr. Deborah Ball shared the following community compact with her fifth grade students on the first day of their summer math class:
Math Class Compact We will learn to see how each of us is smart and can teach others.We will respect one another as people and be curious about one another’s ideas.We will learn things from one another.We will be able to make mathematical knowledge and other knowledge on our own and together.We will ask questions and raise challenges.We will care about and look out for one another. |
Dr. Ball believes that “working on mathematics is a collective as well as individual endeavor – that is, that knowledge must be established within a local community or group and, ultimately, connected to the wider mathematical community.” One of her goals for the class during their first week together was to “begin to form a sense of ourselves as a group who will be doing mathematics together (Ball & Shaughnessy, 2017).
I watched Dr. Ball use class discussions as a space to help students develop skills essential for learning together. She prompted students to express their ideas clearly and confidently. She asked students to repeat what others had said in their own words and encouraged students to ask each other questions for clarification. She helped student build habits of orienting to, analyzing, and making connections to others’ ideas, always explaining why these habits were important. Dr. Ball accomplished all of this through her use of prompts and questioning within the context of discussions around a complex mathematical problem. Dr. Ball’s facilitation of this learning-how-to-learn-as-a-community reminded me of another study of classroom math discussions by Suzanne Chapin, Catherine O’Connor, and Nancy Anderson, and the identification of specific teacher “Talk Moves” that grew out of this research (see below).
Teacher Talk Moves Helping Individual Students Clarify and Share Their Own Thoughts Wait time Turn and Talk So you are saying…? Say more… Helping Students Orient to the Thinking of Others Who can repeat? Helping Students Deepen Their Own Reasoning Why do you think that? Helping Students Engage with the Reasoning of Others Do you agree or disagree and why? Who can add on? (Chapin, O’Connor, & Anderson, 2013) More information about Talk Moves can be found at http://mathsolutions.com/uncategorized/classroom-discussions-using-math-talk-in-elementary-classrooms-pdf/. |
It was exciting to see the growth that occurred across a single week in the Math Lab Class, both for individual students and for the class as a mathematical community. As students shared and discussed their thinking, insights and connections rippled across the classroom sparking new questions, building students’ efficacy, and deepening everyone’s understanding of big mathematical ideas.
During her final debrief session with the educators who had come to observe the Math Lab Class, Dr. Ball shared her beliefs about teaching and learning. She talked about learning-with-others as a life skill, critical to our students’ futures and to society. “Math class,” she said, is a great place to practice that.”
*The TeachingWorks Elementary Mathematics Laboratory (EML) at the University of Michigan is both a summer math program for students and a professional learning experience for educators interested in learning about effective mathematics instruction. More information about the EML can be found at http://www.teachingworks.org/training/LaboratoryClasses.
References:
Ball, D., & Shaughnessy, M. (2017). Lab class #1 lesson plan. TeachingWorks, University of Michigan Ann Arbor.
Chapin, S. H., O’Connor, C., & Anderson, N. C. (2013). Classroom discussions in math. Sausalito, CA: Math Solutions.
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