Fostering Mathematical Discourse

4.0 Content Knowledge – The teacher uses content area knowledge, learning standards, appropriate pedagogy and resources to design and deliver curricula and instruction to impact student learning.

EDMA6432 Elementary Math Methods, and applying the knowledge I gained through this course in my internship, reinforced the importance of program standard 4.  This standard describes how teachers can draw from a variety of resources in order to design effective instruction that will positively impact student learning.  One of the most valuable pieces of information I learned was the importance of fostering mathematical discourse.  According to Ernst and Ryan (2014), “when students share their mathematical ideas and representations with peers and make sense of the ideas and representations of others, they make more mathematical connections and deepen their understanding.”  This can be done by asking open-ended questions, recording students’ strategies, and responding to each other’s thinking (Ernst & Ryan, 2014).

In an effort to increase the productive math discourse in my classroom, I posted some sentence frames around the classroom to help guide students toward effective math conversations.  The sentence frames include, “I agree/disagree with _______ because…” and “How did you solve the problem?”  This has translated from their conversations into their daily math work in the form of clearly showing their thinking.  I have explained to my students the importance of showing what they know in all of their


Student sample from a performance task.

math work because it allows me to understand their thought process.  During a performance task, one student did an excellent job of modeling his thinking by using the arrow way.  Despite answering the question incorrectly, his ability to clearly show his method for solving the problem allowed me to better understand where there was a disconnect.  Once the performance task was completed, I asked him how he figured out the problem and he realized his mistake.  Effective mathematical discourse can often allow for students to recognize their own mistakes and gives them an opportunity to deepen their learning.

The importance of fostering positive math talk in the classroom has enormous effects on student learning and understanding.  Through effective math talk, students become more confident mathematicians, make more mathematical connections, and deepen their understanding of math.  By taking the time to teach students appropriate ways to communicate with each other, and by asking high quality questions, the classroom will be a safer place for students to learn, take risks, and become proficient mathematicians.


Ernst, K., & Ryan, S. (2014).  Success from the start: Your first years teaching elementary mathematics. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

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