NUMBER TALKS TOOLKIT
What is a Number Talk?
A Number Talk is a short, ongoing daily routine that provides students with meaningful ongoing practice with computation. A Number Talk is a powerful tool for helping students develop computational fluency because the expectation is that they will use number relationships and the structures of numbers to add, subtract, multiply and divide.
Number Talks should be structured as short sessions alongside (but not necessarily directly related to) the ongoing math curriculum. It is important to keep Number Talks short, as they are not intended to replace current curriculum or take up the majority of the time spent on mathematics. In fact, teachers need to spend only 5 to 15 minutes on Number Talks. Number Talks are most effective when done every day.
History of Number Talks
What young children know and understand can never be fully determined through paper and pencil tasks. Teachers can get much more complete and useful information if they watch and interact with the children while they are doing mathematical tasks. Number Talks are one such way to interact with the children. How the children respond reveals their level of understanding.
In the early 1990s, Kathy Richardson and Ruth Parker began working with a group of teachers. During various professional development settings they began giving teachers experiences doing mental math as part of their professional development.
Kathy watched teachers becoming more and more proficient and, in fact, was developing her own level of proficiency… but was also contemplating how this would translate to young children who did not already have some idea of numbers and how they work. She thought about how to develop students’ understanding while, at same time, not telling children how to solve the problems. What young children needed was not Mental math experiences, per se, but working with concrete models to build numbers and then to figure out computation problems using the models until they no longer needed them.
What developed was Number Talks.