Nothing, and I mean nothing has affected my teaching more in the last two years than an article that came from Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School titled, “Orchestrating Discussions“.
The authors share results from their research concerning the practices teachers engage in when they orchestrate mathematical discussions from which students learn.
Let’s be clear about what this means.
Imagine two teachers using the same challenging task in a classroom. Each teacher gets kids working. Kids are engaged and on task in both classrooms. And now each teacher is going to have a conversation with his students (in Connected Math, we call this the summary but it’s not a finding linked to a particular curriculum).
In one classroom, students learn more mathematics from that conversation than they do in the other. So this is not about engagement, it’s not about the task. It’s not about technology. Those things may also help, but they don’t factor into the finding in question.
Nope this is all about what the teacher does to facilitate that conversation. The research group has identified five practices that lead to productive mathematical conversations. When teachers engage in those practices, students tend to learn more than when teachers do not engage in them.
So what are these practices? I’ll summarize. But you really need to read the article.
- Anticipate. Teachers anticipate student strategies for working the task when they plan their lessons.
- Monitor. Teachers make efforts to notice what strategies their students are actually using, and to keep track of who is using which strategy.
- Select. Teachers choose which students should contribute their strategies to the conversation.
- Order. Teachers select the order that these contributions will get made.
- Connect. Teachers do the hard work of helping students see connections between the strategies that are presented.
I can’t stop thinking about it. I measure my efforts in professional development against these practices. I measure my college teaching against it. I think about these practices when I’m writing for Connected Math.
Oh. And now it’s a book.
Next post, I’ll write up some concrete changes in my teaching caused by this article.