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Let’s talk about ‘Maths Talk’

The shiny new Mathematics curriculum is landing in schools. A major feature is the promotion of ‘Maths Talk’. Guest teacher author, Aoife Doyle, reflects on how she plans to facilitate this in her class.

A strong feature of the new curriculum is the promotion of ‘Maths Talk’. This is something that we inherently do as teachers, without even noticing. However, it can be useful to take a moment to reflect on our practice and consider… how do I facilitate Maths Talk during my maths lessons? Perhaps there’s an opportunity to develop this further?

Maths Talk happens when children are engaged in appropriate and meaningful mathematical tasks.

Here are some ways I’ve found that can facilitate and develop Maths Talk with my pupils.

It is OK to make a mistake

Maths Talk is beneficial as it can help us to understand how the children are perceiving the lesson. It can only happen in a meaningful way if children feel that they have the freedom to take a chance and to view mistakes as an opportunity to learn. It is helpful to have a discussion around this with the pupils. Children also need clear expectations around pair work and group work for Maths Talk to be successful.

Modelling the steps

Consider channelling your inner Ed Sheeran for Maths Talk and encourage ‘Thinking Out Loud’ wherever possible. Sorry, I’m a fan!

Narrating or visualising the steps taken in solving a problem is an excellent way to facilitate Maths Talk. You can also use children’s examples to spur on further discussion: ‘When Liam uses this strategy, it makes me think of…

Sharing methods enables peer learning

Children can often rely on some early tricks or patterns they found ‘to work’. These may not always be the best. Hearing alternative ideas from their peers is a powerful way to encourage students to consider and try something new.

By encouraging students to share the detailed steps of their mathematical problem solving, others in the class are exposed to other ways of working things out. As the teacher, you can also then highlight methods which are more robust, easier or more reliable and engage the class in a deeper maths discussion.

Sentence starters to build your maths talk language

Giving the pupils a sentence starter or scaffold is extremely helpful to allow all learners to express their thoughts. Creating a library of examples and making a display the children can refer to is a great activity to beginning talking about ‘Maths Talk’.

Consider using sentence starters like:

My first step is…

My strategy is the same/different to yours because…

Next time I solve a problem like this, I will…

My best guess is… because…

The mistake happened when…

Take the time to talk

In our very busy teaching days, we can often be rushing on to the next question, the next topic, the next lesson. It is so important to remember that pupils need time to receive and to process questions and problems posed to them.

Allowing for quiet ‘thinking time’ can help this hugely. You can also ask pupils to ‘Think, Pair, Share’. This gives them time to reflect and discuss the problem with a peer before sharing with the class.

Final thoughts

Maths Talk helps pupils to develop their problem-solving skills. As the old saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved.

Check out this other Teachers’ Corner article on problem solving:

You can read more about Maths Talk in the NCCA Support Materials for the new Maths curriculum here: https://ncca.ie/media/5428/3-introduction_to_maths_talk.pdf

Guest Teacher Author

Teachers’ Corner's school based guest authors share practical ideas and insights from their classrooms and schools.

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