Sara Brisby Article Evaluation The article, Building Discourse Communities in Mathematics Classrooms: A Worthwhile but Challenging Journey

, by Edward A. Silver, and Margaret S. Smith, talks about some of the differences between traditional instruction in math, and classrooms that are engaged in the lesson, and participating in discourse. It also talks about the challenges in using communication and discourse in teaching. Not only is the role of the student different with a new style of learning and solving math, but the role of the teacher is different. In traditional math, the teacher gives information and correct answers to students who do most of their work silently. In this new vision of a math class, teachers engage students in valuable mathematical discussions and problems. Teachers facilitate discourse and monitor student understanding. Students are expected to be active participants in a “discourse community.” Teachers and students alike need to have better communication with each other. One of the main challenges in developing these mathematical discourse communities is preparing teachers. The teacher’s role is to ask engaging, challenging questions, to listen to ideas, ask students to justify answers, let students struggle and come up with their own solutions and answers. Teachers themselves have to learn to do each of these things. Many teachers are used to a certain way of teaching. They are going to need to get accustomed to asking these new types of questions, instead of what they are familiar with. It will take teachers time to adjust to this type of teaching and student

learning. Teachers themselves have probably not ever been taught this way either, so it will take awhile to get used to. In one example, Ms. A. was working with a 6th grade class with a mix of English only students, and English learners. Many of the students were nervous and not comfortable talking in front of the class. She asked them to take a survey, “What is your favorite ?” Students worked in groups, made graphs, then presented their

information. Students in the audience could then ask questions to the presenter to clarify their understanding. Ms. A. made the students feel comfortable and respect each other, which is part of establishing a discourse community. However, a lot of their questions didn’t involve math. They were just basic questions, “How did you decide which TV show to pick? How long did it take to make that graph?” The class was having a good discussion, and students built confidence, but she didn’t push them to ask better questions. As their confidence grows, the teacher needs to make sure math is the focus to increase math proficiency. This is at least a step in the path of a discourse community. In the second example, Mr. J.’s 7th grade class was working on a task with ratios in various formats. Mr. J. modeled the answer a few times, then allowed students to work together and talk to each other. Mr. J. walked around the room and asked questions. They then had a group discussion where he asked questions like, “Does it make sense? Can you justify your reasoning? How do you know?” He focused on giving the answer and explaining how they got it. They didn’t have to make generalizations or connect important ideas in math.

I have only been teaching 8 years, at 3 different grade levels and schools, so I wouldn’t say I’m too set in one way of teaching, but this new math style of teaching and learning is difficult. I see it as a challenge for students because they have never learned it that way, but teachers have also never taught it this way. It is interesting to be experiencing this challenge myself, then read an article about this exact topic. In Ms. A.’s class, that would have been a good activity at the beginning of the year for students to work on speaking to others and sharing their information. She could even do it throughout the year to build that comfort level. Each time she does something, she could add more essential questions and help students add on to their math proficiency. There was no higher -level thinking involved for students. She could have them make connections and ask their own questions. In Mr. J.’s class, he is on the right track, and did what I think I would do. He asked some of the right questions, and engaged students and had them clarify their understanding. He just could have gone further. It sounded like a good lesson until I read further and saw what he could have done. I think it would take a lot of self -reflection, and working with other people to help realize what we can add to our current teaching.