Sunday, October 23, 2016

Number Talks and #ObserveMe

At #TMC15, a math coach told us about modeling Number Talks in all of her classrooms. It took me a year to set it up and give it a try, but as of mid-October, I've done almost 100 Number Talks. I've got a few more scheduled and should be done by the end of November.

I read about the #ObserveMe movement through Robert Kaplinsky's posts on Twitter (original post: So I wanted to merge the two ideas and have teachers observe me doing Number Talks. I created a template for teachers to record the strategies that students use and the questions that I ask. 

My first Number Talk debrief meetings had me asking "How do we get past compliments?" So I reached out on Twitter and asked this question. David Wees and Robert (and Michael Pershan) offered some thoughts. Their advice and my takeaway was that it really depends on the questions that we ask. I started by asking for Evidence of how I support language learning. This felt too much like our evaluation system. Teachers told me "I liked it," "good job," or "you did very well." These comments felt good, but didn't help me improve.  David Wees responded to the post below with great comments in my Google Doc. He affirmed my instincts and offered suggestions. This all happened within minutes of the tweet and in time for me to adjust before heading out to try it. I so appreciate the #MTBoS for the support and push to improve.

My new #ObserveMe Questions:
How could I better support language learning?
How could I better record student ideas?

These questions improved the feedback. A few teachers made suggestions that I incorporated:

  • Leave the sentence frame up so they can use it when responding.
  • After the pair share, have them tap their chin if they had a chance to talk and tap ear if they had a chance to listen.
  • Be careful with hand signals. Don't introduce too many at once. Now, I do thumbs up and thumbs sideways at the beginning and add the "same sign" when we need it. I was using a "same sign" that actually meant "yellow" in sign language. A teacher let me know and demonstrated the sign for "me, too" in ASL and I've switched it. 
  • Another coach noticed that I was modeling Sheltered Instruction strategies and building a culture of equity. 

One Teacher's Notes:

Questioning: This teacher recorded nine "questions" that I asked. I notice that three of them are actually commands. Two of the questions are yes/no questions (asked at the end for some quick closure - could have been statements instead). Two of the questions were to probe into student thinking. One of them was to compare and contrast. Two more were about choosing efficient strategies for them. 

Hand Signals: I had the opportunity to hear Ruth Parker talk about Number Talks at the Northwest Mathematics Conference. She cautioned against asking students to use hand signals if they used the same strategy. It's important to make sure all students feel comfortable sharing and aren't discouraged if others don't agree. But, I am also concerned about student engagement during Number Talks. 

Pair Share: She also cautioned against using a turn and talk because it forces students to share before they are ready. I don't want to let go of the chance for students to rehearse their responses. But I think I'll be careful about pressuring students to share if they aren't ready. Again, I think the turn and talk opportunity increases student engagement and supports language learning. It also helps younger students have a chance to share. Otherwise it's hard for them to sit and listen to others when they have an idea to share.

Student Names: Before each student shares, I ask them to spell their names (and you can see I don't always get it right). Student names are such an important part of their identity. Writing their names with each strategy shows student ownership of the mathematics. This set of student responses reminded me of a "Which One Doesn't Belong?" (

The Debrief Meetings:

Questions I ask in the debrief meetings (these have evolved and I like these best today):
What did you notice about how your students responded?
What did I do that is similar to what you do?
What did I do that is different to what you do and that you might try?
I also make connections to our curriculum and where they could do Number Talks or facilitate Math Talk in this way.

I had a great opportunity with another coach from my district for her to observe one of my debrief meetings. I knew we had limited time, so I started with the second two questions all at once. We had a nice discussion, but it wasn't very focused. Afterwards, we stood in the parking lot and she coached me! She asked great reflective questions: how did you feel about that? What was your goal? Did it work? I was able to realize that (just like in classrooms) when rushed, we don't get as deeply into ideas as when we do less with focus. Hmm... 

Some responses from teachers:

An email:

Some notes on the feedback sheet:

***I'm still curious about how other teachers maintain and ensure engagement during Number Talks. What do you do? (please share in the comments)


  1. This is wonderful. Thanks so much for sharing your journey as I believe people will empathize with your experiences and remain optimistic that tweaking your goals will make a big difference.

  2. Amazingly though reflection and template for others - like me!- who are new to the Number Talks process. Thank you Jennifer!