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K-6 Communication Reflection Guide

Using a Journal Article as a Professional Development Experience


Title:             Can Teacher Questions Be Too Open?
Author:         Parks, Amy Noelle
Journal:        Teaching Children Mathematics
Issue:           March 2009, Volume 15, Issue 7, pp. 424-428

Title:             Talk Counts: Discussing Graphs with Young Children
Authors:       Whitin, Davis J. and Phyllis
Journal:       Teaching Children Mathematics
Issue:           November 2003, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp. 142-149

Rationale/Suggestions for Use 

Young children need many opportunities to discuss mathematical ideas, explain their thinking and justify answers.  The role of the teacher is very important in the mathematics classroom because the questions teachers ask, or don’t ask, can make the difference between a thoughtful mathematics lesson and a lesson that produces rote, meaningless answers.  These articles help teachers reflect on their own questioning techniques and offer ideas for explicit and inexplicit questions.


  • One of the following:  chart paper, an ELMO, an overhead projector, or computer with a projection devise that all participants can see.
  • Copies of both articles for all participants


Goal: Participants will define student discourse and discussing strategies for increasing student discourse in the classroom.

  1. Ask participants to brainstorm the types of mathematical communication their students engage in during class.
    • How would you define student discourse?
    • Make two lists (chart these) – title one list “IS considered student discourse” and the other list “IS NOT considered student discourse” Ask participants to brainstorm specific examples of classroom interactions for both lists.
    • Examples of what “IS considered student discourse”
      • Students write in their journals about their mathematical reasoning or processes.
      • A student states, “I see a pattern that I think will always work, because each number is 3 more than the one before it.”
      • A group of students discuss the mathematical conditions in which an idea will or won’t always work.
    • Examples of what “IS NOT considered student discourse”
      • The teacher provides instructions to the class about an activity they are about to engage in.
      • The teacher provides a counter example to a method posed by a student.
      • A student asks a question about nonmathematical procedures related to an assignment, such as when the assignment is due, whether students need to show their work, etc.
  2. Next ask, “What is the role of the teacher in discourse?”
  3. Facilitator shows ___ = (73/9) x 2 so all participants can see it.
    • Have participants consider these two questions:
      • Who has something to say about this problem?
      • Who can show how they solved this problem?
    • Record the answers that participants give.
  4. Have the participants read page 424 and the first 2/3 of column one on page 425 of “Can Teacher Be Too Open?”
  5. Now go to the questions asked previously and ask, “What types of questions are these:  (explicit or inexplicit)?”  How do these two types of questions differ?  When should they be used?
  6. Next show a bar graph and ask the participants to write one inexplicit question and three explicit questions they could ask students to elicit information from the bar graph.  Have them share their questions and discuss when they would use both types of questions.
  7. Then have participants read page 143 and the first half of page 144 of the article, “Talk Counts: Discussing Graphs with Young Children”.


  • Finish reading both articles.
  • Find a published list of questions you can use to help support you in your classroom
  • Using a published lesson that you plan to teach (from your text-book or other teacher material), examine the following questions. 
    • How can you improve on the questions in the lesson?    
    • Write new questions for the ones needing improvement.  If there is no need for improvement, explain why.
    • Teach the lesson and record questions and answers.
    • Bring the lesson plan and the questions to the next session along with recorded reflections and student answers.

Session Two  

  1. Participants share and discuss the work they did with their students. 
  2. Now that they have read both articles completely have the participants discuss how the teacher chose to focus on more than one attribute for the graph (pages 5 and 6).  It began as a graph of which apple type the children preferred and then also added how they liked their apple cut (various ways) or whole.  What could be a problem in doing this?  How could the teacher have dealt with this problem right from the beginning of collecting the first set of data?
  3. Finish up with a discussion of the power of the question “Why?”


Connections to Additional Publications 

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