Strategies in Number Talks

In kindergarten, we use a variety of dot arrangements for Number Talks. We started with under 5 dots in the beginning of the year, and after few months in, we are under ten. From the beginning, I observed various strategies and the most popular strategy has been to find a smaller number inside a larger one and count the rest. Other strategies are grouping smaller numbers in a large group, and quickly and mentally counting the arrangement by ones.

As time has passed, students are making faster and faster calculations and they are quicker at finding smaller numbers in a large arrangement. For example, in an 8 dot arrangement some students will quickly see 4 and 4 dots, while others will see 5 and 3 or 6 and 2. This type of grouping has evolved as we are working with bigger numbers and it is especially relevant now that we are working in a Unit with addition. Their explanations of their thinking have also evolved with time. Students not only see 4 and 4 dots, now they are more specific in explaining their dots location with a more sophisticated language. I see 4 dots in the center and other 4 dots around the center. I see five on the top and 3 on the bottom. I see six in the left side and 2 other dots in the right side.

Of course I still have a little group that is working with numbers under five and we are meeting daily to work on larger numbers and to use more specific language to explain their thinking. 

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Building Community in Number Talks.

Community building is an important area in classroom management, and more so in kindergarten. In kindergarten, most of the students haven’t yet been exposed to a large group of children. When school starts the first thing we teach are expectations which include several guidelines on behavior within class discussions. We come up with steps to follow in community circle and we practice these and review as often as needed. We also create a social contract with agreements on how we will treat each other in class. Still, it is difficult for students to understand that others’ input is just as important in a discussion as theirs. We learn this and practice almost everyday during Number Talks. 

Number Talks start with the question ¿Cuántos hay? How many are there? Students have learned that they are not to shout out the answer but show that they know it with a thumbs up. These took a lot of practice in the beginning and by now everyone follows it (every now and then eager students still shout out the number). By now, students know to wait to be called to respond and if they aren’t called they get a chance to agree or disagree showing a thumbs up or thumbs down. This part can be tricky without guidelines that show respect to other students’ thoughts and opinions. Why is it important to show respect if others are wrong?

In our school, my class is known as Los Amigos de Ms. San Miguel. We learn that we are a community of friends and we are learners that learn at our own pace. During social studies, we talk about feelings and how we need to show respect even if we do not agree with another friend. We sing songs about our classroom community to create a sense of belonging and we earn points as a class for behaviors that show love, respect and kindness to other students. We also have created hand signals that recall the agreements in our social contract such as a heart signal with both hands, fingers touching, for love. During our Number Talks we refer to these guidelines and our social contract using the hand signals, when needed.

Because students have being involved in the process of creating the social contract, having been involved in listing the guidelines that show respect between each other, this is very meaningful to them. Furthermore, because they also created hand signals to recall the items listed in the social contract, they have become experts in identifying moments when the hand signals are needed. Just last week, a student showed his hand heart to another student during a Number Talk, when this friend had made fun of a wrong answer. The first student reminded him that we do not make fun of others because we are loving friends. We are, los Amigos amorosos, loving friends 😉