One Simple Question to Increase Student Discourse

This year I am researching how to increase questioning and discourse with students. My TRC team’s goal is to promote more discourse with students. One way I’ve tried to do that is to ask my students open questions that allow them room for thinking and talking with each other. 

I’ve focused on asking students, “What do you notice, what do you wonder?” in class as a response to the ubiquitous phrase, “I don’t get it.” It’s been eye-opening (for both me and my young mathematicians) to see my students start to realize how much they know based on those two questions.

For example, I was working with a team on the Algebra 2 lesson that investigates creating a model for volume by exploring the height of a box (1.2.1). Traditionally, this lesson has been very challenging for my students because they have to create a table, calculate volume, cut squares out of corners (It’s actually quite hard for students!), and then recognize patterns to create an equation which relates height and box volume.

I was working with one team who had an equation and a graph and table, but hadn’t used technology yet to graph any of it. I had them describe their domain and range and then create a matching window on their graphing calculators to see the graph. Then I simply had them zoom out. It blew their minds! They had all sorts of questions like, “What’s going on? How could there be more to the curve? What?” So I responded with, “What do you notice?” It was so neat to watch them describe all sorts of different features of the graph, describe the equation’s domain and range, and then make the connection back to the graph. One student, Maddie, looked at me and said, “I feel like I grew a new brain!” 

I directed students where to look, but I left it up to them to make the connections. It was hard to let go of the control; I fought the urge to ask funneling questions. But I’m so glad that I did – the rewards of increased thinking and discourse were so good!

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