Article Review: “Turn and Talk: One Powerful Practice, So Many Uses” by West and Cameron

Did you see my summer reading list? No, it wasn’t filled with thrilling fiction (though I did try to squeeze that in!), but excellent math resources!  Since I love all things Lucy West, one of the first things I read was: “Turn and Talk: One Powerful Practice, So Many Uses” by Lucy West and Antonia Cameron (2011).

Here’s a little background on the topic of academic discourse, according to West and Cameron (2011):

  • student discourse is vital for learning, but it is not seen in classrooms regularly (p. 1)
  • “Research from around the world validates the importance of dialogue as a key avenue for learning content with understanding and developing reasoning, social skills, and intelligence” (p. 1)
  • Douglas Reeves, Richard Allington, Vygotsky, and Robin Alexander have “linked academic success with the capacity to engage in conversation and to as and answer questions in full sentences” (p. 1)
  • it is not easy for teachers to engage students in rigorous discourse for a few reasons: the content of the lesson is lacking (i.e. there is nothing to talk about), the lesson is too factual or skills based, the lesson is not based on any “big ideas”, there is not enough time for discussion, and too much time is spend practicing a skill (p. 1-2).

So what are the benefits of “turn & talk”?  West and Cameron have eleven benefits, but I think the three most relevant to my teaching practice are:

  • “Develops capacity to articulate an idea and use new terminology”: this is a key point for me because I find that students are lacking math terms. By talking to a partner during math lessons, students are able to improve and broaden their math vocabulary.
  • “Develops the idea that the source of power is in each learner”: it is so important for students to understand that their voices, ideas, and contributions are essential to a math lesson.  They are the source of power during the lesson and their contributions are essential.
  • “Gets at least 50 per cent of the students talking in a given lesson”: I have several students in my class who love to participate during lessons and discussions, but there are many students who would rather sit back and just listen.  Turn & talk helps me get those students involved in the discussion and helps them build confidence during math lessons.

So when is it a good time for “Turn & Talk”?  West and Cameron provide 10 clues that show student discourse would be beneficial at that time, but for me the following two really stand out:

  • “Preparing to write”: for our numeracy learning cycle, we are focusing on the analysis of the problem (using our GRASS acronym), where students need to explain their thought process as they tackle the problem.  We are asking students to take us step-by-step through their though process.  By having students turn and talk with a partner first, we have found that the analysis of the problem is much more detailed, in-depth, and accurate.
  • “Teaching each other”: it is such a pivotal and powerful moment in a lesson when students are able to teach one another.  It may be that only some students understand the concept enough to teach a peer, or it may be that many students understand the concept and can show their understanding by explaining their ideas to their classmates.  Student discourse would be a great way to review the highlights and summaries of a lesson and to check for understanding. I used this approach during my measurement unit when students had to discuss the various area activities we were solving.  It worked out very well and it had everyone talking!

I highly recommend reading the article by West and Cameron.  It is an essential read for any math teacher who wants to improve both the quantity and the quality of student discourse in the math classroom.

We have been using this strategy during our TLLP math journal project and we have noticed an improvement in student problem solving and analysis. By having students turn and talk with a peer, they are showing how well they are attaining the concept and then have a better understanding of how to approach a problem and solve it successfully.

Designing a Math Focus Wall for Your Classroom: The Planning Stage

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Part 1: 12 Essential Components of a Math Focus Wall

In Part 1 of this series, I explained how I wanted to create a math focus wall for my classroom.  I came up with 12 items that I think are necessary components of a math focus wall.  Since I teach intermediate students, the math focus wall I am designing would look different than many of the primary math focus walls I have seen.

To set the scene, I have five bulletin boards at the back of my classroom.  The SMART Board covers the bottom half of the middle bulletin board.  I decided to spread out my math focus wall over the three centre bulletin boards.  Since I want to incorporate several items into my math focus wall, I really needed the space to do it justice.

So after quite a bit of copying, cropping, and pasting, here’s my plan:

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I’ve managed to include all the 12 items I had mentioned previously. These are the items that are ready to go:

  • my SMART Board is at the centre and is ready to be incorporated into my math lessons
  • on the left hand side, I have my math talk sentence starters…there are 52 sentence starters and I will be changing them on a regular basis.  They will be used to help guide students during their math discussions (I will post a link to this new product of ours soon!)
  • at the top left hand corner, the four posters help student decipher math word problems and determine which operation to use (I will post a link to this new product of ours soon!)
  • on the right hand side, our GRASS posters help students to break down word problems.  The white boxes along the poster set will show student solutions to problems we are working on…these will be changed on a regular basis as well
  • along the top of the board you’ll find our posters “What does a good mathematician do?” to help students become mathematical thinkers and apply various skills when solving problems

The items shown in white on my plan will be co-created with or created by students:

  • learning goals and success criteria will be co-created with students for each new lesson
  • the white tiles next to the GRASS posters will contain student problem solving steps

I still need to work on the following items (the items shown in blue on my plan):

  • make a sign for my math talk prompts
  • find examples of math in everyday life
  • find funny math comics
  • an eye catching border and title
  • work on key terms for each section (term: definition, diagram, examples)
  • math reflection questions for their math journals
  • challenge question of the week (University of Waterloo’s Problem of the Week and Math Circles are great resources for this)
  • and math strategy posters (e.g. work backwards, draw a picture, solve a simpler problem)

Any other suggestions? Any areas for improvement?

Tune in for more updates on my math focus wall!

The Tuesday 12: 12 Essential Components of a Math Focus Wall

Welcome to another edition of The Tuesday 12! I recently had a SMART Board installed in my classroom and I’d like to incorporate it in my math lessons.  Then I began to think of creating a math focus wall on the bulletin boards that surround my SMART Board.  I looked through Pinterest and couldn’t really find the perfect plan (which is odd because Pinterest has everything!), but I did find one picture to use as inspiration:

Lots of great ideas for an interactive math bulletin board

(Aside: I tried linking the picture to the original source, but I can never get that page to load properly)

Based on previous experiences teaching grade 7 and 8 math, some research, and some creative thinking, I’ve come up with 12 items I’d like to include on my math focus wall.  Some things will be static, while other things will be dynamic.  This list isn’t carved in stone…until I get into my classroom at the end of August and begin to put everything together, it will be hard to imagine.

I’ve decided to turn this into a series of posts from the initial ideas to the final creation!  So join me in creating a math focus wall for my classroom and then adapt the ideas for your own grade levels!For my next post, I’ll draw some pictures to help me visualize my ideas.

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12 essential (for now…lol) components of a math focus wall:

1. A number line…really a no-brainer for a math focus wall, but it will probably be from around –45 to + 45, since integers are used throughout the grade 7 and 8 math program

2. A spot for our learning goal and success criteria which we will be co-creating with each new lesson.

3. A section with math accountable talk sentence starters (I’m working on a set now!)

4. Challenge question of the week

5. Steps to problem solving…like our lovely GRASS posters!

6. Help in decoding math word problems (e.g. multiplication-of, product, twice, times, multiple)

7. Key terms and definitions for the unit we’re working on

8. Our posters—what does a good mathematician do?

9. Different problem solving strategies (e.g. work backwards, draw a diagram)

10. Examples of math in everyday life

11. Bright and colourful parts—I’m thinking a blue or green background, a patterned border, and something really cool for the title (maybe just the word MATH done in an interesting way)

12. The SMART Board…I just need to start incorporating it into lessons regularly!

Do you have any suggestions?  Let me know! As I said before, until I can go into my classroom and begin arranging all the different sections, this list can—and most likely—will change!

Tune in next week for another edition of The Tuesday 12 and more on my math focus wall!

What Does a Good Mathematician Do? A Seven Poster Set!

After the success of our six poster set “What Does a Good Scientist Do?”, we created a corresponding math poster set!

This bright and colorful seven poster set helps teachers introduce math process skills to their students. The following math process skills are included: problem solving, reasoning and proving, selecting tools and strategies, reflecting, connecting, representing, and communicating. Each poster provides prompts and keywords to help students understand the skill.

We have been doing a lot of research in order to begin working on our TLLP project this upcoming school year.  One of the key components of our project is getting students to think mathematically and communicate their ideas.  Having students learn these seven key mathematical process skills will be instrumental in improving their understanding of math concepts.

An excellent addition to your classroom! Just click on the image below!

thumbnail mathematician posters

And here’s a link to our science skills posters!

what does a good scientist do badge

 

The Tuesday 12: 12 Essential Resources for Math Teachers to Read

Welcome to another addition of The Tuesday 12! Since Lisa, Elita, and I will be working on a TLLP math project this year, we will be using our blog to review useful resources, the progression of our project, challenges to overcome, and successes we achieve.

The following list of resources is on my summer reading list (haha…it seems to be quite an endeavour, but I hope to check off as many as possible).  If you’ve read any of these resources or if there are others you can recommend, please leave your comments below!

1. Good Questions: Great Ways to Differentiate Mathematics Instruction (K – 8) by Marian Small

2. Turn and Talk: One Powerful Practice, So Many Uses (2011) by Lucy West and Antonia Cameron

3. Communication in the Mathematics Classroom (September 2010) by the Ontario Ministry of Education-Capacity Building Series

4. Writing in Math Class: A Resource for Grades 2-8 (1995) Marilyn Burns

Writing in Math Class: A Resource for Grades 2–8

5. Big Ideas and Understandings as the Foundation for Elementary and Middle School Mathematics (NCTM Journal, Spring-Summer 2005) by Charles Randall

6. Teaching Student-Centred Mathematics (2013) by John A. Van de Walle, Jennifer M. Bay-Williams, LouAnn H. Lovin, and Karen S. Karp.

7. What Great Teachers Do Differently: 17 Things That Matter Most (2011) by Todd Whitaker

8. Math Sense: The Look, Sound, and Feel of Effective Instruction (2012) by Christine Moynihan

9. Small Steps, Big Changes: Eight Essential Practices for Transforming Schools Through Mathematics (2012) by Chris Confer and Marco Ramirez

10. What’s Your Math Problem? Getting to the Heart of Teaching Problem Solving (2011) by Linda Gojak and Laney Sammons

11. Supporting Numeracy (Special Edition #28) by the Ontario Ministry of Education—Capacity Building Series

12. Asking Effective Questions (Special Edition #21) by the Ontario Ministry of Education—Capacity Building Series

 

 

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links

Exciting News! We’re working on a TLLP Project!

We apologize if things have been quiet around here for the last week or so, but we were busy preparing for the “Leadership Skills for Classroom Teachers—TLLP Training Session” last week! It was a phenomenal event!

To give you some background information, the TLLP stands for Teacher Learning and Leadership Program, which is “an annual project-based professional learning opportunity for experienced classroom teachers”  here in Ontario.

According to the Ontario Ministry of Education, the TLLP “funds proposals from classroom teachers who seek a peer leadership role in curriculum, instructional practice or supporting other teachers. The three goals of the program are to create and support opportunities for teacher professional learning, foster teacher leadership and facilitate the sharing of exemplary practices with others for the broader benefit of Ontario’s students” (source).

Way back in November 2012, we applied for funding through the TLLP.  At first, we were not 100% sure about the direction our proposed project would take, but after a lot of research, discussion, and reflection, we decided on math learning journals, specifically focusing on student problem solving, communication, connections, and reflections (we will discuss more about our project very soon!).  In December, we received wonderful news from our school board that our project was selected and submitted for TLLP consideration.  We were ecstatic and couldn’t wait to find our if our project had been approved! But wait we did, until February 2013 when our project was approved by the TLLP committee!

Fast forward to May 15-17, 2013 when we attended the “Leadership Skills for Classroom Teachers—TLLP Training Session” in downtown Toronto.  It was a busy and intensive 2.5 day training session.  We had to juggle quite a few work and home commitments to ensure that all three of us could be there, but it was well worth it!  From the Ontario Teachers’ Federation, Mike Budd, Peter Lipman, and Rosemary Clark did an excellent job leading the event. Presenters from the Ministry of Education included Paul Anthony, Hanca Chang, and Nick Zacharopoulos, as well as presenters Claudine Laporte (AEFO), Malisa Mezenberg (OECTA), Susan Perry (OECTA), Brenda Sherry, and Peter Skillen.  All the presenters and facilitators were so friendly, approachable, and informative! The Keynote Speakers were Dr. Ann Lieberman, from Stanford University, and Dr. Carol Campbell, from OISE/UT.  Two excellent speakers who were entertaining, motivating, and knowledgeable!

Throughout the 2.5 day training session, we heard about scheduling, project management and budgeting…things I am not crazy about! Yes, I am known for my lists upon lists, but luckily I have two awesome partners—Elita who is great with budgets and Lisa who is super organized!

I really enjoyed the portion “Learning From Experience: What I Know Now that I Wish I Knew Then”. In this section, there were six presentations from last year’s TLLP cohort.  We each attended three of the six presentations and we were able to hear about their projects, difficulties they encountered, successes they celebrated, and lessons they learned along the way.  This was very informative and hearing first-hand accounts from people that were past (and also current) participants was fascinating.

On the last day, we were able to meet with other participants who matched our theme (math) and we had some excellent discussions! We can’t wait to collaborate with these excellent teacher leaders throughout the year!

One thing that we did mention over and over again throughout the 2.5 day session was how motivating and inspiring it was to be in a room packed full of teachers who are looking for new and innovative ways to develop and strengthen their own professional learning and that of their students!

If you are (or were) part of the TLLP community, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

We’ll be sharing our learning journey on this blog throughout the year. Check back often for updates and more information about our project and its implementation! We’ll be adding a TLLP button at the top of our page for easy access to these posts!

Let the journey begin!