Last night I saw this video shared on Twitter. (Stop and take 6 minutes to watch it, and then come back here)

Annie Fetter was sharing about the hidden decision making we all do in the classroom. As I watched it, I kept thinking, guilty, guilty, guilty. I do all of this. I take decision making out of the students’ hands. I fill in the gaps and speak for them. I guide them right to the answer I want them to give without ever making them think hard enough. We also hide decisions by asking redirection questions rather than asking them to justify their reasons. When we write questions on the board we start the answer before they even have time to think.

I had an exciting math discussion today in my year 11 (10th grade) class. We were talking about sets and set notation, like {x|-3<x<8}. I have a culture in my class where when students don’t understand they are allowed to just speak up and say they need help.

One student piped up and said, “Student P is confused!”

My response, “Student P, ask me a question.”

Student P: “Why do some of < and > have lines under them?”

Me: Who can answer Student P’s question?

As much as I could, I tried to allow other students to answer questions that were brought up in class. This allowed them to demonstrate to me that they understood the skill.

The last set of questions I put up was to discuss if certain sets were finite or infinite, given their notation. I asked each pair to tell me their answer to a part, and then I instructed the class to raise their hands if there were any they disagreed with. We quickly came to agreement on 5 of them, but the 6th one started a discussion that I allowed to continue for about 10 minutes. The question was {x|2<x<8, x is a real number}. Many said finite, and one student said infinite. (The answer is infinite) I didn’t say the answer, but had them stand up and move to the side of the room they agreed with, and if they were totally confused, they needed to stay in the middle. Then each side needed to try to convince the students in the middle (including student P) to come to their side. They had very convincing arguments, but neither was able to convince anyone to their side.

When we had one minute left I took the class back over and asked a few questions to help them realize it was infinite. I think most of them understood before they left. I really enjoyed seeing them get passionate about their feelings, and some were able to articulate more than I thought they could.

Do you practice Number Talks in your classroom? What are some of your favorite ones?