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Crafting a Discussion

Emily describes how to plan and facilitate a rich discussion phase with her students.

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Hello, this is Emily Jansen, Year 3 teacher from Bungaree Primary School, back with my second Champions of Maths blog post. You can read my first one here.

Prior to beginning this program, I sat on the ‘traditionalist’ beliefs side of the spectrum.

I also work at an EDI school, which has a philosophy to ‘Teach First’. So, it was cognitively challenging for me to embrace the ‘launch – explore – discuss’ lesson structure of a ‘Connectionist’ teacher. Essentially, it was the total opposite of what I had been doing up until this point.

For this blog post I’m going to hone in on the discussion phase of the lesson format. We can think of the discussion being made up of several parts. It’s about students sharing carefully selected examples, it’s about facilitating opportunities for students to talk about these examples through talk moves (see Bec’s post here for further clarification), it’s about checking for understanding and finally (which took me a while to realise), to teach.

Initially I was relying heavily on Shyam’s support to ask concise, pertinent questions, but over time I became more proficient, so I’d like to share my top tips for crafting a good discussion.

  1. Only have 2-3 key questions (especially for younger students).
  2. Ensure the questions are linked to the learning goal. For example: if my mathematical goal was for students to ‘record systematically’ and ‘recognise “times as many” as an aspect of multiplication’  the key connecting question I would ask is ‘How does this working out clearly show “twice as many?”’
  3. Refer to a tactile example while asking a connecting question – circle the board, draw on the board, re-draw a more concise model while you pose the question. For example: ‘Take 10 seconds to look at this number sentence (5x4=20) and array. What part of the diagram does the 5 represent?’ (underline the 5). If students answered with ‘the 5 represents the amount in each column’ I will shade or circle that observation.
  4. Craft connecting questions that will help students connect a pictorial solution to increasingly abstract solutions. This was described in the example above where you are asking students to make connections between a number sentence and array.
  5. Probe your students if they don’t quite get there. Say ‘tell me more.
  6. Check your students are attentively listening by getting them to paraphrase or repeat something that has just been shared. Obviously set this up in your expectations prior to having the discussion.
  7. If students still don’t understand the concept or can’t answer a question after you’ve provided opportunities for pair-share – explain it. Teach it. Get students to pair-share again so they have an opportunity for success.
  8. As you are monitoring your students, look out for groups who are on the cusp of understanding or haven’t used the most efficient solution. Then, at the end of the discussion, choose them to answer a very pertinent question, such as ‘Has your thinking changed?’

Most importantly, stick with it and persevere because it will become easier to plan and facilitate a rich discussion phase with your students.


Find out more about the Alcoa Maths Enrichment Program.

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