Tweaking Number Talks

Working Through Number Talks

Before proceeding I recommend reading my previous post Working Through Number Talks to get a better sense of the issues I came across as I implemented Number Talks into my classroom before the tweak I will mention below.   

I wish I could say that the solution I came up with to the problems I was having with Number Talks in my classroom were more earth shattering and extravagant then the following tweak. An inexpensive popular class supply: Notebook cut in half.

With the integration of the tweak my Number Talks routine is as follows:

  1. Begin the Number Talk routine as usual but we only discuss the first two questions of the four-question string as a class.

  2. Once we are finished the two questions on the whiteboard each student grabs their Number Talk booklet (I color code them to make it quicker and easier for students).

  3. Students open their booklets (I cut the corner to the page) and there are two questions written out for them where they show me their strategies to solve the questions.

  4. When students are finished, they show me their booklets and I either provide quick feedback or take them in. When I take them in some of the students may have answered one or both questions incorrectly and that is okay… for now. While waiting for the other students to finish up I may have an open ended problem posted on the board or on a piece of paper for students to begin thinking about. 

  5. Once the five minute timer is up (making sure we don’t take up time from the rest of time together), all students hand in their booklets, whether they are finished or not and we move on with the math lesson or it is the end of our math block (having number talks at the beginning or end of the lesson will depend on what type of activity/problem we are working on that day).

The Number Talk Booklet:

1. Allows each student to show me their thinking and strategies daily.

Students understood that even though they did not share with the class (and that is okay) they had to show me their strategy in their number talks book. This allowed students an outlet to show me their thinking when they were too shy or working through a new strategy. Leaving feedback in their books or having a conversation with certain students gave them the confidence to share in future number talks. In the beginning I may have to sit down with students to listen and scribe the strategy they are using or talk through what they are thinking when solving as some students tend to say “I just know it” as they gain experience in showing their strategy and thinking in their number talk books. 

"The Number Talks booklet gives me a chance to share my strategy if I don't get to in class"

2. Ensures each student has two questions at their level to solve.

Regardless of the questions taken up by the class, students knew that they had two questions that would challenge them and yet be successful. The questions in their booklets would always follow the same type of questions in the string to bring out certain strategies however, some students would be working on single-digit, double-digit or triple-digit in their booklets. I found that students would listen and follow the number talk as a whole class because they could take a part of someone’s strategy and use it in their own solving of questions.

"I like the Number Talk booklets because I know their are two questions waiting for me that will be just right"

3. Allows me to quickly see every how every student solves a particular question.

When students hand in their booklets I can quickly see what strategies they used to solve the given questions which may guide my lesson for the day, target students who I may need to confer with or quickly prompt them to think about an error they made in solving a particular question. In the example below I circled the 1 in 13 and had the student think about the 1 in the number 13 and place value. They came to the realization that the value of the 1 in 13 is 10 and not 1 (which is how they came to their original answer of 74 = 70 + 1 + 3). 

4. Gives me the information necessary to work one-on-one, in small groups, or as a whole class on specific areas and strategies.

I have a closer look at all the booklets and student strategies during my prep period, lunch time or after school to determine next steps on what the Number Talk might be for the next day, write in the two new questions for students and/or determine if I need to meet with individual students, small groups or discuss some things as a whole class. I will occasionally jot down the strategy on the page for my future self. This helps me if I need to quickly flip through pages to see what strategy students commonly use, whether they choose the same strategy or an inefficient one and showcases the growth and journey of each student.

5. Shows the growth and journey of each student throughout the year.

During student self-assessments and goal setting, parent teacher interviews or report card time I can quickly pull out their Number Talk books and flip through and see the progress each student has made throughout the term or year. When I sit down and confer with students, I bring out the Number Talk booklet and discuss with them the journey they have been on since the beginning of the year. Students who struggled in previous grades or at the beginning of the year and did not see themselves as young mathematicians are more confident, enthusiastic, and beaming with joy when they see their growth throughout the Number Talk books. The pictures below show the growth of a grade three student in one month. 

"I remember when I used to solve questions like that, but now it is easier. I get it! Math isn't that hard now."

6. Makes it easier to nudge students to try different strategies.

Students who may not feel comfortable trying a different strategy in front of their peers during a Number Talk can try it in the comfort and safety of their Number Talk booklet. I might approach certain students and ask them to try a certain strategy that was shared that day or leave a note in their books nudging them to try a different strategy that might be more efficient or might be different strategy then what they would normally used to solve a problem. If they try it out and are successful, then they may be more willing to share with the larger group or if they are having difficulty then that gives me the information I need to work with that particular student in continuing to build on their strengths and understanding and may not be quite ready yet! In the left example below, I can have a conversation with this student and/or class and reiterate the difference between model and strategy. 

7. Builds the confidence of students to share with the class during Number Talks.

When students show me their thinking and strategies in their number talk booklets, I can approach them and ask them if they would be willing to show their strategy the next day during number talks as the string of questions will be similar to what is in that particular students booklet. Sometimes I would even put in a question that I will use in the number talk the next day for students who need that extra time to solve a problem.

8. Gives teachers a product of student strategies.

With much of my math class consisting of students working on whiteboards completing tasks and problems by themselves or with a small group, I needed a way to have a product of the strategies my students use to solve problems. Although I see the strategies of my students while they work on their tasks I do not have a record unless I take a picture of it, which brings in a whole new set of problems of housing and organizing. When it comes to conversations with students and parents or sitting down to determine where students are at in their learning. I often have the stack of Number talks booklets right beside me as it shows the growth of each student throughout the entire school year.

The third and last segment of my Number Talks journey talks about the recent  Number Talks extension I do once a week with my grade two class.