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Best Practices for Student Engagement
January 3, 2013 | Volume 8 | Issue 7
Table of Contents
Common Core Quick-Start
Unlocking Engagement Through Mathematical Discourse
Engaging students in math can be a challenge for teachers. For many students, math is a subject to be endured, not embraced. But the Common Core math standards, which provide a narrower and deeper focus on math than most existing state standards, offer a prime (no pun intended) opportunity to engage students in content through mathematical discourse.
The Common Core State Standards for Mathematical Practice (see sidebar) encourage students to "engage in the actual use of mathematics, not just in the acquisition of knowledge about the discipline" (Schwols & Dempsey, 2012a, p. 7). Research tells us that teaching that focuses on interactive participation can improve problem solving and conceptual mastery, with no ill effects on computational mastery (Bruce, 2007).
Through mathematical discourse, teachers can foster student engagement and participation while focusing on the deep conceptual understanding called for in the Common Core math standards.
What is mathematical discourse? At its most basic, mathematical discourse occurs when teachers ask questions and students respond. But there's more to it than that if we're going to get to the level of discourse that encourages students to "think like mathematicians." Schwols and Dempsey (2012b) identify the following components of high-quality mathematical discourse:
Pulling in the Practices
When we map these recommendations for high-quality discourse against the mathematical practice standards, we can see immediate connections: for example, engaging in a collaborative exchange of ideas about a mathematics concept provides students with the ideal opportunity to construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others (mathematical practice standard #3). Are you fostering an appreciation for accuracy in your conversations with students? Then you're also addressing mathematical practice standard #6, "attend to precision."
The benefits of mathematical discourse go beyond student engagement. But by engaging students in mathematical discourse, we engage students—period.
Bruce, C. D. (2007, January). Student interaction in the math classroom: Stealing ideas or building understanding. Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/Bruce.pdf
Fillippone, M. (1998). Questioning at the elementary level (Master's thesis). Retrieved from ERIC database. (ED 417421)
Kilpatrick, J., Swafford, J., & Findell, B. (Eds.). (2001). Adding it up: Helping children learn mathematics. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Martino, A. M., & Maher, C. A. (1999). Teacher questioning to promote justification and generalization in mathematics: What research practice has taught us. Journal of Mathematical Behavior, 18, 53–78.
Schwols, A., & Dempsey, K. (2012a). Common Core standards for high school mathematics: A quick-start guide. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Schwols, A., & Dempsey, K. (2012b, July 17). Making connections: Mathematical practices, assessment, and instruction. Presentation at the North Dakota Curriculum Initiative, Bismarck, ND.
Stein, C. C. (2007). Let's talk: Promoting mathematical discourse in the classroom. Mathematics Teacher, 101(4), 285–289.
Kirsten Miller is lead communications consultant at McREL.
ASCD Express, Vol. 8, No. 7. Copyright 2013 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.
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