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Professional Learning and Professional Learning Communities - Talking to Pupils about their mathematics

Created on 16 July 2009 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 10 April 2013 by ncetm_administrator


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Talking to pupils about their mathematics and their learning

Talking to your learners and getting them to articulate their thinking can be very informative, often surprising and a rich source of ideas and issues to work on. As such it provides another excellent form of professional development.

Groups of three or four learners are usually best. Too many and some children don’t participate; too few and they may clam up and not say anything.

Most people find that half an hour is about the right length and you may feel that it is useful to record this to aid reflection and analysis afterwards.

Some suggested ways of working:


  • Be clear about what you want to get out of the discussion. Do you have a particular area of mathematics you want to explore in order to discover what they know and what misconceptions they have? Alternatively, are you interested in their views about mathematics, how best they learn, what sort of activities they like?
  • Plan your opening questions carefully, with other colleagues, if possible. Don’t make the questions too closed or encourage a “guess what’s in the teachers’ head” approach.

During the discussion:

  • Avoid making it seem like a test by stressing that you are interested in what they are thinking, what they understand and what their opinions are. Children respond best to this sort of discussion when they are asked to say what they know and when they are encouraged to make up their own mathematical examples to show what they can do and understand.
  • If you are asking them to do and talk about some mathematics it is often better to start with questions like “Tell me what you know about division?” and “Can you give me an example to show what you mean?” rather than just giving them a set of division questions to answer.
  • Your main task is to find out what the pupils are thinking. Ask follow-up questions which are designed to clarify for you what they are trying to say. Resist the temptation to teach!
  • Leave plenty of thinking time, don’t rush to cover lots of areas.
  • You may want to have suitable mathematical equipment available (e.g. a 100 square, Dienes’ apparatus, a number line, etc.) depending on the questions you are asking.


  • Discuss with colleagues what the significant aspects of the discussion were - using video/DVD or audio recording as an aid.
    In your discussion try to tease out what you are learning about;
    • The mathematics - what is easy or hard for the children?
    • How they like to learn and be taught mathematics;
    • What misconceptions the children have in relation to this area of mathematics;
    • What are the implications for your planning and teaching of mathematics?
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23 October 2013 15:17
I think that this is a great way of identifying any misconceptions and could be used as a starting point for discussion. What are the implications to your teaching/planning? Also I liked; Tell me what you know and now can you show me what you mean?
By linda3636
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23 October 2013 15:12
I have found this guidance really useful as I'm about to start an audit of teaching/learning of fractions and pupil conversations form a part of that. Looking at this though, I think it will be useful to share with the rest of the SLT as it's appropriate for areas of investigation other than maths.
By Hackett
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05 July 2012 13:27
If you are interested in this idea, you might like to look at this video (https://www.ncetm.org.uk/resources/imt_video) in which a secondary teacher probes students understanding about division.
By petegriffin
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