Sunday, January 11, 2015

Number Talks Book Study - Chapters 1 & 2

Welcome!  So glad you stopped by to join us for our new book study sponsored by the Elementary Math Maniac.  Today we focus on chapters 1 & 2 of Number Talks by Sherry Parrish.

While we are participating in a book study, we also want to provide followers (who have not purchased the text) with additional resources to help them understand the essence of number talks and the impact they have in the classroom.  These will be imbedded into chapter discussions, hopefully not to confuse, but to create further understanding beyond the text. Over the course of the coming weeks, our own experiences with number talks will also be shared. Please feel free to join in!

Chapter One: What is a Classroom Number Talk?

I appreciate how Sherry Parish begins chapter one, sharing her experiences visiting a second and third grade classroom and asking students to share their reasoning behind subtracting.  Their reasoning was focused on using the standard algorithm, but the conceptual understanding behind its use was lacking.  As the second grader stated, "That's just how you do it when the bottom number is bigger than the top."

This brought back memories of pretesting my fifth graders many years ago and discovering they were able to add fractions, change improper fractions to mixed numerals and vice-versa, etc.---with very few students understanding why they were performing the steps they were.  They had memorized the steps taught the previous year, and three quarters of the class did not understand the meaning of a fraction or mixed numeral in the first place.  Some teachers, when faced with this situation, would spend some time complaining and casting stones at the previous year's teacher, but I would like to think that most would immediately begin helping their students develop the conceptual understanding and why what they were doing worked and that there are other ways of thinking. Parrish provides support for this very thing--talk about it.

One of the things I like most about Sherry Parrish's presentation of number talks is that she shares a journey she has taken--one that has "challenged and refined my thinking about what it means to be mathematically powerful". I think anyone who delves into this text will challenge and refine their thinking as well--no matter where they are in their own journey.

It is also a journey she has not taken alone. She acknowledges many, including Ruth Parker, who began work with number talks many moons ago. Enjoy the following video of Ruth Parker's presentation, Do We Really Want them to Reason? at the Key Curriculum Ignite event at the 2012 CMC-North conference in Asilomar.

So, what is a number talk?  Parrish defines a number talks as "a classroom conversations around purposefully crafted computation problems that are solved mentally."

In chapter one, Parrish goes on to describe a number talk in a third grade classroom and shares five key components of a number talk, yet seeing a number talk in action brings it all to life.  Below you can watch three videos.  The first is the introductory video clip shared on the DVD that accompanies Number Talks, by Sherry Parrish.  The second is a third grade number talk video that comes directly from the DVD as well (both courtesy of MathSolutions).  The third is a fourth grade number talk (courtesy of Math Perspectives). After watching the videos, an overview of chapter one will be shared.


Third Grade Number Talk -- CLICK HERE!

Fourth Grade Number Talk

You can also read a brief history of number talks on the Math Perspectives website where the above video was taken from.

Five key components of a number talk are shared in chapter one.  I have pulled one quote from each component that best illustrates the component.

  • Classroom Environment and Community - "The culture of the classroom should be one of acceptance based on a common quest for learning and understanding."

  • Classroom Discussions - As you saw in the above videos, the teachers are recording students' thinking and giving them the opportunity to explain their own strategies and express their understanding of fellow students' strategies.  Answers are shared and justified.  In both videos you can also see the students' use of a thumb to indicate a solution.  Students should also be encouraged to put up additional fingers as they come up with other strategies while they are waiting.  This is a strategy that I do not currently use and plan to implement this week!  Love this quote, "In number talks, wrong answers are used as opportunities to unearth misconceptions and for students to investigate their thinking and learn from their mistakes."

  • The Teacher's Role - "Since the heart of number talks is classroom conversation, it is appropriate for the teacher to move into the role of the facilitator."  In the fourth grade video, you saw the multiple pathways shared for figuring out the perimeter of the square and halving the area of the rectangle.  I liked how the teacher also presented a "situation" or context for the problem, yet she did not lead students in any way.

  • The Role of Mental Math - "When students approach problems without paper and pencil, they are encouraged to rely on what they know and understand about the numbers and how they are interrelated." In this way, focus is not place on steps that are memorized.  Students are forced to use their understanding of place value.  Parrish also discusses the importance of writing problems horizontally to encourage the use of a number's value instead of focusing on digits when arranged in columns.

  • Purposeful Computation Problems - "The teacher's goals and purposes for the number talk should determine the numbers and operations that are chosen."  One of the best parts of the text is the inclusion of number talks with a strategy focus.  Readers are given a strategies table in the beginning of the text that outlines the strategy, appropriate grade levels, and page number where it can be found in the text. Do not use random problems. 

Thought you might enjoy reading the following articles as well...

Here's another number talks resources: Inside Mathematics--Number Talks

Chapter 2: How Do I Prepare for Number Talks?

Great chapter!  My first suggestion for preparing-----BUY THE BOOK!  It is well worth the investment, I promise!  There's a lot in this chapter, so I have decided to break chapter 2 up into an additional post this coming Thursday to accompany our Makin' It Math mid-month linky.  Below is a discussion of the beginning of the chapter...

Even though number talks are designed to be only 5 to 15 minutes long--Parrish presents four procedures and expectations that are essential to number talks.

Select a designated location that allows you to maintain close proximity to your students for informal conservations and interactions. This serves to build community and lends to informal assessment on your part.

Provide appropriate wait time to ensure the majority of the students have accessed the problem.  Student engagement and participation are expected from all students.  The quiet thumb signal is a great strategy for this.  Please stop back in a future post when I share how I begin use of this with my students.

All answers are accepted, respected, and considered.  Model this as a teacher!  Show your acceptance of ideas, affirmation of thinking, and praise all efforts.

Encourage student communication throughout the number talk. THINK-PAIR-SHARE! It's been around ever since I can remember--use it! Student engagement is high and those who are reluctant to share have an opportunity to share outside of the whole group.  I have seen this strategy build confidence in those reluctant to share as they DO begin to share in the whole group.  "Having the opportunity to ponder other approaches strengthens our won mathematical foundation and understanding."

Please feel free to visit a previous post shared during our Guided Math in Action, by Dr. Nikki Newton, book study that relates to this procedure/expectation.

Woo-eee! Hope you are hooked and want to learn even more--or as the fifth grade teacher in the introductory video stated it perfectly, "walk through that door".

Please feel free to share anything you are thinking or wondering about in a comment! 

Please stop back this coming Thursday for more of chapter 2 and some free made-its.  AND thank you again to Tara, the Elementary Math Maniac, for hosting this book talk.  Head over to check out her post!  Below is a schedule for future chapters.  Hope you will continue the exploration with us!

All the best--


  1. Hi Sarah! Thanks so much for linking up with this book study! I love how you found and shared so many great resources for number talks! Many of these would be great resources to share during ongoing professional development around number talks. I am thinking of teaching a graduate course about number talks in the future and having these articles and videos are great ways to ease teachers into using number talks. I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts next week!

    1. That would be a fabulous graduate course topic! From reading your blog, I can tell you are wonderful resource for your teachers and they are fortunate to have your support. Some time ago I receive a flyer in the mail featuring this text, and I was so glad to hear you were doing a book study--it on my top 5. Thanks again for hosting!