Introducing…Talk4Maths by @Mroberts90Matt

As part of my NPQML qualification I am required to lead an initiative within my school. This initiative has to be linked to the School Development Plan, have a measurable outcome and require the deployment of a team. As such, with my role as part of the Maths Lead Team, I looked into an article found on nRich which refers to a case study of a school which trialled a way to develop mathematical vocabulary.

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In essence, this strategy outlines an approach to learning which includes ideas found in the well-known ‘Talk4Writing’ initiative. Talk4Writing gives the children the opportunity to internalise story and text structures with oral rehearsal and physical actions. Along with this, the strategy uses story maps (or concept maps) to memorise text structures once again. If you haven’t heard of it just go to their website or @Talk4Writing – I have only mentioned a couple of ideas from this strategy. There is much more. It is a very effective method of developing writing as it focuses on enhancing vocabulary and language to improve writing.

As I considered this, it became clear that the Talk4Writing strategy was very successful in our school as it developed vocabulary and text techniques with our children. 80% of our children speak English as an Additional Language which can be a major barrier for writing. However, in the first new-look KS2 Writing assessment last year, 80% our Year 6 children achieved the Expected standard and 23% of three cohort achieved Greater Depth! Now, I know what a few of you may be thinking “well it’s teacher assessed so the data can be questioned.” We were moderated. Now you may be thinking “Oh very good…Still potential for questionable results though.” Our moderators were being moderated at the time by someone from the STA. So if you want reliable writing results you can’t look much further really! (To be honest, that experience may warrant it’s own blog post!)
Basically, Talk4Writing works (in our school at least).

So, seeing the great success of Talk4Writing I started to question “Can there be a Maths equivalent to this?” Mathematical learning hinges on understanding of vocabulary, mathematical and lexical. As such, someone with poor language skills will struggle to access Reasoning and Problem Solving sides to Maths – and in the KS2 assessment, there’s 2 whole papers for that! What if we could develop language, or talk, in Maths in a similar way to our already successful Talk4Writing scheme?

Enter the Case Study mentioned earlier. I will not decrypt it all here (just follow the link talk-for-maths-case-study) but it basically is an example of a cluster of school trying to prevent the Year 3 dip in Maths. Each Year 3 class teacher utilised this initiative of Talk4Maths – using oral rehearsal and actions to memorise and understand mathematical concepts; using story maps to learn step-by-step processes; breaking down (or ‘boxing-up’) problems to make them easier to solve. The whole basis behind these methods is to develop one thing: talk. One Google search and you will find a vast array of sources and research into the value of ‘talk’ in Maths and Talk4Maths is just a strategy to empower children to do this more.

Some discussions later, and couple of weeks of trialling by me done, a presentation to the SLT carried out and I was off! I formed my team (one teacher from each Phase – being in a 2-3 form every school to get the coverage) and we have begun. Up to this point my team and trialled the strategy and shared their experiences. I have tasked some members with carrying out a Pupil Perception Interview to gather initial info on the general view of Maths in the school currently and hope to see a positive change. I will probably write a post later about the progress and outcomes because this will be the first educational change I have led across a school – exciting times!

What I will do now is explain the actual Talk4Maths strategy in a little bit more detail so anyone reading can see if they can envision this in their classroom:

1. Utilising oral rehearsal and actions 

This is pretty straightforward. For whatever mathematical concept is being distilled, the teacher will break it down into a simple definition of series of steps (depending on the content).

For example, the very first concept I trialled this with was ‘factors’. I came up with the sentence ‘Factors multiply together to create a product.’ Straightaway this brought up discussion. What is a product? Can there only be two factors of a number? Can there ever be one factor? The list went on… Then I invited the children to develop simple actions with me to memorise this definition. These actions offer a great little beginning to a lesson when we are going to quickly revise factors, they also support the children’s knowledge and understanding as they have visual cues to remember the language.

2. Story Map Concepts 

This follows on naturally after creating visual cues as a further aid to learn concepts and processes but they don’t have to be used together. Talk4Maths Story Maps are a sequence of images (very basic images), sketched by the children to help them remember the skill or concept. We have drawn story maps for remembering factors, prime numbers, square and cubed numbers, long division, adding/subtracting/multiplying/dividing fractions and more. My team have done some for comparing numbers, adding numbers and even presenting word problems to help children break the problem down. All the while, these handy little story maps can be kept in the back of a book or in the classroom somewhere for reference.

3. Boxing up problems 

This was mentioned in the case study but I am less aware of how this would work and the case study said it was too complex for Year 3-4s. Simply, this means breaking down the problem into steps so it’s easier to solve. We are going to make a decision whether to attempt this or leave Upper Key Stage 2 practitioners to teach children to break down the problems as they are already anyway.

Then what…?

After having identified what we wanted to implement into the school, we recognised a need to have some sort of ‘celebration’ or ‘reward’ in the school which promotes children who engage more and more in Maths talk as a result of further confidence and opportunities in discussing Maths.

Unlike Writing, it is more difficult to see an ‘end product’ in Maths learning. There is no ‘final piece’ that can be assessed by teachers to determine a ‘T4M Reward Winner’. Thus, we created the ‘Ruler of Reasoning Session. Each fortnight, each class will have at least one (Ruler of Reasoning Session) where they will not use books – only graffiti paper – and the teacher will circulate every group, listening to each group discussion how to solve problems based on their current topic.

The use of graffiti paper in Maths removes barriers of worrying about presentation. It encourages group discussion and therefore, the use of the vocabulary children will develop in a classroom adopting a Talk4Maths approach. The concept of using graffiti paper in a lesson will also guide staff towards using a problem to solve rather than a list of basic calculations.

Using their observations and the resulting graffiti paper recordings, the teachers will then choose one child that has stood out as their ‘Ruler of Reasoning’. This child, along with the other Rulers, will be celebrated and they receive…wait for it…the special ‘Ruler of Reasoning’ to use for the next two weeks! 

And the outcomes…

Well, considering I’ve trialled for a half term and my team for about 4-5 weeks it is difficult to say for certain. However we have seen quantitative and qualitative results.

First, a child who was assessed as working at a Year 2/3 level on entrance to Year 6, asked me one day before our lesson if we were doing the ‘actions’ again in Maths today. I said, of course. He voiced he was a little unwilling (being a cool Year 6 boy and all) and I asked ‘What’s a factor?’ and he reeled off the definition (this was about 3-4 days after learning about factors). Then, to prove the point even further, I asked him ‘What is a factor of 21?’ He said ‘3’…If you want further evidence then go away and do it yourself!

Now, for further evidence, at Parents Evening, I learnt that this same child (who really does struggle in Maths) taught his Mum what factors were as she had forgotten!

Quantitative data – we have just received our internal analysis of our Autumn Assessments and being on the Maths Lead Team I received the Maths data for the whole school. The 3 classes who showed the greatest rate of progress in Maths? Those three classes are in my Talk4Maths team who have been trialling our new Talk4Maths strategy.

What about you? Will you be looking into Talk4Maths? How do you develop talk in your Maths sessions?

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