Happy talk, Dept.

Those who read Education Week are probably familiar with the breathless reporting that Catherine Gewertz did when Common Core was being adopted by state after state. Her latest breathless report about math education is about how “talking about math” helps students learn it. Or something to that effect.

“Research suggests that when students talk more about their math thinking, they are more motivated to learn and they learn more. Talking about math thinking can also serve as a stealth form of assessment, giving teachers insight into what students have mastered and where they still need help.”

First question: What research?

Second question: Have you ever worked with middle schoolers? Articulation of what they did is not their strong suit.

Oh, you have an answer for what I just brought up? OK, let’s hear it.

Learning to say things like, “When Robert uses this strategy, it makes me think of …” or, “This makes sense to me because … ” can help students learn how to “get mathematical ideas out into the classroom space” and build respectfully on one another’s thinking, Berry said.

I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but I teach middle school math. My method is to “model” articulating the structure of the problem. “Are both cars traveling the same amount of time? What can we say about the distance each car travels?” In other words getting the mathematics that matters to solving the problem “into the classroom space”. Or whatever.

“The good news, according to experts, is that math discourse is a technique that works as well virtually as it does on paper or in face-to-face classrooms. And now, when students and teachers risk feeling disconnected and adrift, there’s even more reason to consider using “math talk” techniques to help students feel engaged and see themselves—and their classmates—as valued mathematical thinkers.”

Here’s some more news, though I doubt that believers in “math talk” will find the news good. Explicit instruction in procedures and problem solving techniques, with worked examples provide students with what they need to solve problems. Expanding from a worked example to solve similar problems demands much critical thought, and does exactly what these folks pretend that “math talks” accomplish.


3 thoughts on “Happy talk, Dept.

  1. Their experience of virtual classrooms must be different from mine.

    In a real classroom I can quiet everyone down, and make them pay attention to what another student is saying. Or, I can get them to continue with their work while I direct my main attention to a student, because I have enough attention left over to make sure the rest keep working.

    In a virtual classroom, once another student asks a question or says anything more than a sentence long, the bulk of them drift off onto something else. You simply cannot stop them playing on their phones, listening to music, or having chats. (I know that is how I behave as an adult when someone else wants help in an on-line meeting I am attending, so what chance do the kids have?)

    As usual with progressive techniques, the opportunity costs of a Good Idea are never examined. The “maths discourse” we are having over Zoom or whatever comes at the cost of not teaching all the others in the class during that time, because on-line I cannot control the others while I interact with one student.

    (My school went almost completely to asynchronous teaching on-line anyway. The concept that you can hold a daily “class” on-line is a pipe dream.)


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