Communicating about math is a whole skill set of its own.

Case in point: each of these pictures is supposed to show you how 3 children would share 10 granola bars.

I’ll probably write at some point about the actual math. But I was most struck by the issues we encountered with communicating their thinking in writing. They basically got correct answers, but I’d never really know that with a couple of the groups if I hadn’t talked to them, and if I hadn’t helped them through the communication piece.

We’ve done a bit of this, and it’s clearly one of the things I need to focus on. I give them paper and ask them to communicate their strategies; “Show me how you got your answer!” I say, and I get little cartoons of kids writing the correct answer on a paper. Seriously. I’ve been doing a lot of modelling of writing to record our discussions during Number Talks and Number Strings. Alas, we still find ourselves in murky waters.

To be clear: it’s not just this year that my students have struggled with this. They are 7 and 8 years old…some still 6 at this point in the year! Writing is a skill they are learning. And by writing I mean printing letters and numbers, translating a stream of consciousness into written words, pictures, and numbers, and doing all of this while remembering what it is that needs to be said. They, pretty consistently across the class, thought they could write 3 names on that 10th granola bar and be done. They kept saying, “What is this big paper for?” And I kept pointing to the front of the room where our last set of math posters was still taped to the board.

I’ve had students who use manipulatives to show how they got an answer, but then not have the words to explain. They just point and smile.

I know we’ll get there! I will keep demonstrating. I have given everyone a small math journal, and for the last question during a Number Talk I ask them to write their strategy. I think it’s helping. Actually, I know it’s helping! We’re only in the middle of October. There are a lot of days left to practice mathematical communication skills.

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