Three Classroom Challenges (and Solutions!) to Help Orchestrate Student Discussions

Dotted blue decorative line - ASSISTments Images

Facilitating high quality discussion with and among students can be time intensive and require a lot of skill from teachers. But the results are well worth it as they; contribute to a better understanding of content, promote student engagement, aid instruction by providing educators with a deeper understanding of student learning. 

In order to help teachers achieve these results we held a webinar where we discussed the following five practices for orchestrating productive mathematics discussions, referenced in the National Council of Teachers for Mathematics:

  1. Anticipate likely student responses to challenging mathematical tasks.
  2. Monitor students’ responses to the tasks (while students work on the tasks in pairs or in a  small group).
  3. Select students to present their mathematical work during the whole class discussion.
  4. Sequence student responses that will be displayed in a certain order
  5. Connect different students ‘ responses to key mathematical ideas

Let’s put these practices into real life. The following are challenges from the classroom of three teachers: Carrie Moy, a 7th grade math teacher in Chicago, IL; Cathryn Shupert, an 8th grade math teacher in Washington, KY; and Marla Edwards, a 4th grade math teacher in North Little Rock, AR.

Carrie’s Challenge: Building classroom community

Solution: Make use of the Assignment Report. This allows you to see which questions gave students trouble and creates a dialogue in which the class discusses how the incorrect answer was attained and what the solution could be. For my class, this destigmatized having the wrong answer and having seen the question before, students will be more likely to engage in conversation.

Results: My classroom has a community feel that is based on collaboration and communication. Students feel safe and are excited to share.

Top Tip: Have stock questions prepared. Such as: "What do you notice?" "What’s going on and why does or doesn’t it make sense?" "What is a strategy we can use?" "These are questions that go beyond the surface and the students will eventually adapt them into their own thinking process, making them better learners!"

Cathryn’s Challenge: Having all students contribute

Solution: Instead of having students solely give the right answer, use the wrong answers to lead discussion. Students talk about their favorite no from the assigned practice problem sets, at times after having been prompted with a question starter of: 'What do you notice or wonder about this response?' This question can’t be answered in one word and allows students to explore deeper into the topic.   

Results:  We have collective conversations that explain our mathematical thinking and help the entire class. Content and common misconceptions lead into a deeper understanding of the concepts and students eventually are able to self correct using the math vocabulary that we establish in class. 

Top Tip: Students will get frustrated. It’s about adopting a growth mindset in the classroom. One where students stop thinking that they’ll never get it and start thinking about how they may not be there yet but that they will get there eventually.

Marla’s Challenge: Ensuring all students have a voice and keeping chaos at bay.

Solution: Utilizing the immediate feedback from ASSISTments to keep group work moving forward and to help justify/explain correct answers. Students will work in small groups and speak with each other about the answers.  

Results: Explaining their evidence and justifying their answers keeps students focused on the task and progressing in their learning. See how my students put this into practice in 43 seconds!  

Top Tip: Don’t play the referee all the time. Let the students use the data to help each other. This way your time can be spent on more focused interventions and enrichment.

Now it’s your turn! What is one thing you will try to support student discussion of ASSISTments data? Let us know here.

Share on socials!

Facebook logoLinkedIn LogoPinterest logo
View All Blogs