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The Importance of Mathematical Talk in the Classroom

As teachers we want our children to be competent mathematicians, eager to engage with new concepts and ideas, and able to apply their mathematical skills in a variety of contexts with confidence. In order to achieve this, children need to have a secure understanding of key mathematical concepts and skills. 

Mathematical talk is essential to develop children’s understanding of mathematics. Purposeful talk can clarify, refine and extend understanding of important mathematical language and concepts.

In the Foundation Phase, mathematical talk is usually seen as an essential part of learning but by the time children reach Key Stage 2, mathematical discussion can often be squeezed out of the curriculum to accommodate other pressing demands.  Children need regular opportunities to engage in purposeful mathematical dialogue and it is essential that children have opportunities for mathematical discussions at all stages of their learning.

In the best practice, teachers discuss maths as a key skill with children at the start and end of lessons. They discuss with children how they can use their skills in mathematics effectively to solve problems and record their findings in different contexts and situations. We need to encourage children to talk about and explain their work, looking for patterns, elaborating on their answers and making learning connections.

We can support children by verbalising our thoughts and encouraging them to do the same, asking probing questions to refine their ideas, and ensuring that they have time to rehearse, explain, compare suggestions and refine their answers. Through explaining their thinking, children can show their understanding of number processes and concepts. It is important to develop an ethos of ‘numeracy’ where children see mathematical enquiry as a natural part of learning.

So how can we ensure that mathematical talk is taking place in all classrooms?

There are a number of resources available to support teachers developing mathematical talk in their classroom. Some learners find it difficult to talk about mathematics and will benefit from support such as sentence starters. Teachers can make their own resources or use ready-made products such as these speaking frames aligned to the curriculum for Wales and designed to support the progressive development and reinforcement of numeracy skills and mathematical language.

A simple way to build more mathematical discussion into the classroom is through the use of projects such as Llygaid Mathemateg. Llygaid Mathemateg is a free resource that uses images from around Wales to develop mathematical talk, with questions aligned to the ‘Curriculum for Wales: revised Areas of Learning and programmes of study’.

What fraction of the visible doors are green? What percentage is this?
Can you find any acute, obtuse or reflex angles?

Llygaid Mathemateg can be used as a starting point for a topic, as a plenary activity or at a regular time in the school day such as a morning task or settling down task after play.

 

After a general initial discussion of the images, learners should put their 'Llygaid Mathemateg' on and see what they can see. Some schools have made special ‘Llygaid Mathemateg glasses for children to wear!

Each image has some question prompts for the adult leading the discussion. These questions have been aligned to the ‘Curriculum for Wales: revised Areas of Learning and programmes of study’ and can be used as a starting point for developing questions appropriate for the learners discussing the image.

 ‘Llygaid Mathemateg’ encourages the use of the real world as a starting point for relevant exploration in the maths world. Having ‘Llygaid Mathemateg’ opens a channel for dialogue about real-world mathematics. Everyone has ‘Llygaid Mathemateg’ they just need to be opened.

Mathematical talk is an essential element of developing children’s mathematical skills and it is vital that all teachers maximise the opportunities for high-quality mathematical dialogue in their classrooms, both during lessons and as a natural part of the school day.

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