Using talk to develop maths – how does talk help develop maths skills?

Using talk to develop maths – how does talk help develop maths skills? Well, maths is a language of its own and much of the vocabulary is very abstract! Children very easily confuse the words used in talking about calculation. Understanding maths concepts can take a while and although we can use visual things to support our understanding, talk is a key part of the complete picture. Without talk we are not able to put into words our understanding of a concept. Being given scaffolds for talk to help us verbalise our own thinking is very powerful and can enable us to make connections. Check out the sentence stems and how to use them on the teachertoolkit website. You can also find the Tower Hamlet’s Progression in Language Structures document by searching in Google.

Dialogic Talk

Dialogic talk is the incomplete talk that occurs when exploring ideas. This can be particularly helpful when you wish to establish what the class know already about a new concept or topic. It is useful to explore the misconceptions that children may have picked up from previous years and then explore these and challenge them. From dialogic talk you can then plan ways to challenge the misconception.

An example…

I used this with my Year 2 class to discuss a misconception that came up in the previous lesson. This was the second lesson in the sequence. This statement was given to the whole class at the start of the lesson. We spent some time unpicking this in trios and then came back together as a whole. The talk was initially very disjointed and other children would step in and continue the talk. 

Using talk to develop maths skills. Using misconceptions and sentence stems to support the talk.

What did this add to the understanding of the children?

Take a look at the conversation:

Child A: I think this is true because you can count 10,20,30 .

Child B: I agree with A as I think you can only count in tens if you start with the number 10.

Teacher: That’s interesting – can you start with any other numbers and count in tens? C, what do you think?

Child C: Maybe you could start with 0?

Teacher: So you are saying you can only count in tens if you start with a number ending in 0?

Child C: Yes that’s right…

Child D: I disagree with that because you can count ten more from a number.

Child E: Yes I agree with D… you can count in tens from any number… you can start with 4 and then go 14… 24… 34…

Teacher: So you think you can count in tens from any number?

Child E: Yes.

Teacher: Can you tell me more about that?

Child E: umm…

Child F: It’s because when you count in tens the first digit changes but the second stays the same so whatever you start with the ones digit will stay the same.

A couple of pointers…

Using a picture and a comment either taken from a misconception or something you want the children to learn can be very powerful when you give the children the time to explore it for themselves. It works better if they have some understanding of the concept first. It doesn’t matter if what they think they have understood is incorrect at this point. The idea is to challenge their thinking to reach a joint understanding of a concept. What did you notice about the teacher talk in this example? What was the role of the teacher?

I could have told them what they had done wrong, but would it have been as powerful?

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