Instruction Leadership: Student-to-student discourse

PRIMEd Principal
February 2015


5D+ Teacher Evaluation Rubric with a focus on Student-to-student discourse


In today’s time of new standards, new evaluation systems, and, in our district, new mathematics instructional resources, we have the perfect opportunity to really dig deep into instructional practice with educators. Our focus is on more students being successful in mathematics and achieving at higher levels. However, we also want them to engage in mathematics in a way that most of us were not asked to when we were in school; we want them to see the beauty in mathematics and see that it is an integral part of their world.

So the question is: How do we do that? How do teachers ensure that students are engaged in learning mathematics? How do teachers make mathematics meaningful and relevant? And finally, how do teachers empower students to take ownership over their own learning?

Strategies for Implementation

These questions lead to great conversations with educators. We must take the opportunity to discuss instruction in terms of growth and feedback as opposed to evaluation. We learn together and brainstorm strategies that might help with some of these questions. Our new Standards for Mathematical Practice (CCSS) support not only how we want our students to engage in the mathematics content but also demand specific teacher actions needed to develop each of the Mathematics Practices. The tasks we put in front of our students to grapple with are key to student engagement in a mathematics classroom. The tasks are also vital to promoting mathematical discourse in the classroom. The students need something meaty enough to engage in as well as to discuss.

One instructional strategy we have worked on with our staff is how to develop problem solving strategies. Classroom teachers are creating group structures to develop intense problem solving strategies.  Students are grouped together with a complex problem solving task, students identify the given information, share their strategies and their solution with each other and come to consensus on what they will present to the class. From this group work, some of our teachers realized that they wanted to intentionally focus on increasing classroom discourse. With this focus we are able to collect anecdotal data from observations that support an increase in student-to-student talk focusing on the task at hand and using mathematical vocabulary. Students are beginning to hold each other accountable to the discussion by asking each other for clarification of their explanation or asking probing questions. This type of student interaction supports our district’s distinguished category for student talk, which states “student-to-student talk reflects the knowledge and ways of thinking associated with content. Students provide evidence to support their arguments and new ideas” (Center for Educational Leadership, 5D+ Teacher Evaluation Rubric).

This is a lofty goal, but it’s where we want to be; students talking to each other about the mathematics and the problem solving that is involved, as well as supporting their thinking with evidence. One thing we are noticing through this process is that students are not used to learning this way nor are teachers as comfortable teaching this way. This is not easy work, but seeing more students find success in mathematics definitely feels like the right work.

Guest Blogger

Jeanette Grisham is the Assistant Principal at Bellingham High School in Bellingham, WA and NCSM member.

1 comment

  1. Michael Copland says:

    it is the right “lofty” goal……right on, Jeannette. MC

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