“How can we invite all our students to feel comfortable sharing their ideas in math class?”

“We are working on communicating our thinking in math but I have some students that don’t want to share their ideas.”

” I have students that are reluctant to talk in math class, I want them to feel comfortable to share their ideas.”

These are a few questions and comments that arose recently in a grade level meeting with Grade 4 teachers at South Oaks School.  As a team, we have been exploring communication in math and planning intentional experiences around this topic.  During the implementation of these experiences the teachers noticed the reluctance of some of their students to share their ideas with their classmates and during classroom discussions.   We started thinking about what can we do as teachers to create a classroom environment where students feel comfortable to share their ideas and participate in classroom discussions.  We landed on the idea of creating classroom norms or a set of beliefs with the students on what we believe math class should be and feel like and how we can, together with the students, create a safe learning environment.

We posed the following questions to the students and they were given time to generate answers on their own:

What do you need as a learner in math class?

What can you offer your fellow classmates to help them feel safe in math class?

The students recorded their ideas on a sticky note and with the use of a Google App called Jamboard, we made all the responses visible to the rest of the class.  Some of the responses were:

  • people around to help
  • quiet
  • time to work
  • patience
  • loving teachers and classmates
  • quiet space to work

After all the responses were recorded we asked the students what do you notice about the responses? The students noticed that many of their classmates needed quiet, patience and support during math class.

We then prompted the students with this question:

What can you offer your fellow classmates to help them feel safe in math class?

Students followed the same process and recorded their ideas on a sticky note and some of the responses included:

  • help
  • quiet
  • advice
  • gentle words
  • patience

We finished off this experience with asking the students to think about and select one way in which they can help their fellow math learners feel safe in math class.  The teachers and I are hopeful that this is a step in the right direction to build a classroom community where the learners feel safe and comfortable to share and communicate their ideas.

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