“The ones that are doing the talking are doing the learning.” I know that. But, no matter how many times I say it, the impact on student learning in front of me is profound and somehow surprising. There is no example stronger than that of talking about fractions in math class. I’ve spent most of my career spending part of every school year teaching middle school students about fractions. Over the years I’ve wasted a great deal of time and bored many VERY polite students to a point they should have rebelled… I worked hard to cut down on the talking in math class! Until I took my first Thinking Math Class, I felt good about breaking tasks and procedures down for struggling students. Having trouble adding fractions with unlike denominators? Here- Take this 12 page flow chart and keep it on your desk while you quietly work alone! Repeat the process enough- and surely you wont need that flowchart anymore. Back in those days it made sense with my teaching style to also assign 10 problems for homework… practice makes perfect!
How Talking About Fractions Helped
In 2018 though, I seem to have struck a balance between the procedural and conceptual. I’m more likely to have students sitting in small groups with a game board or conversation cards between them… a basket of manipluatives and white boards nearby… and lots of talking!! You see, what I’ve learned about kids is that they will work really hard to understand and be understood by their peers. None of them care how I know that 2/8 is close to both zero and 1/2. But if their classmate tells them it is, then they are interested to understand their thinking. In fact, they might even disagree (yes!!!!!!) and have to really work to see it another way. They might have to draw a number line on a white board to be understood. It might help to grab some fraction circles from that nearby basket and layer them- all in the name of explaining their thinking. And THOSE experiences. Those MOMENTS of hard work and communication- those are memorable. Those spark some dendrites and connect some neurons… That’s where the learning happens! There are more aha! moments in my classroom now. Students can think more flexibly. And, students can better apply their learning to new situations.
And these days, a more valuable homework assignment in my eyes, is to reflect on that game of Slides & Ladders that we played in math class today. Write about a square that you did not agree on at first, what players initially thought, and what you decided in the end. Draw some diagrams to explain it.
If you’re looking to get kids talking, these games might spark some conversation!