Making the Most of Mathematical Discussions

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The importance of mathematical discourse and its connection to developing conceptual understanding, communication, and reasoning is well documented throughout NCTM's Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (2000). For example, NCTM's Learning Principle emphasizes the role of discourse in supporting student learning, noting that “classroom discourse and social interaction can be used to promote the recognition of connections among ideas and the reorganization of knowledge (Lampert 1986)” (NCTM 2000, p. 21). The skillful facilitation of discussions is something both novice and experienced teachers find challenging. Most teachers can recall a well-planned lesson that did not unfold as expected. From this article, we hope readers gain insight into planning mathematically focused, collaborative discussions. We illuminate three key aspects of the pedagogy of teachers who were successful in consistently organizing whole-class discussions. These teachers created learning environments aligned with NCTM's vision of good practice, where students were given conceptually demanding tasks, worked together to develop ideas, and consistently were asked to make sense of mathematics.

Contributor Notes

Megan Staples,, teaches at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT 02629. She is interested in discourse in mathematics classrooms and how students learn through collaborative interactions.

Melissa M. Colonis,, is pursuing her doctorate in mathematics education at Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907. She teaches methods courses at Indiana University–Kokomo and Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). Photograph of Megan staples by Parag Joshi. Photograph of Melissa colonis by Nelson colonis; all rights reserved.

(Corresponding author is Staples
(Corresponding author is Colonis
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