Number Talks Will Deepen Understanding

Making Number Talks Matter: Developing Mathematical Practices and Deepening Understanding, Grades 4-10
By Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker
(Stenhouse Publishers, 2015 – Learn more)

druffel jenniferReviewed by Jennifer Druffel

Are you a math teacher in grades 4-10? Do you observe students incorrectly applying “rules” to solve mathematical problems?

Do you see students still counting on their fingers or struggling with remembering facts? Do students solve expressions and not even realize their answer clearly does not make sense? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then the new Stenhouse book Making Number Talks Matter is for you.

A valuable daily routine

making-number-talks-matter druffelMaking Number Talks Matter by Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker is a guide to implementing Number Talks (conversations about math) into any classroom, grades 4-10. It focuses on students making sense of numbers and applying strategies to solve/manipulate numbers mentally. Number Talks involve a 15-minute routine where students share how they see and manipulate numbers and reveal what makes sense to them.

Making Number Talks Matter is organized in the following way:

  • Chapters 1-3 explain the what, why, and how of Number Talks.
  • Chapters 4-7 explain how to implement Number Talks in the four operations: subtraction, multiplication, addition, and division. For each operation, the authors highlight and name strategies, discuss how they work, show examples of student thinking, and list problems to get you started along with suggestions on how to encourage students’ use of the strategy.
  • Chapters 8-10 discuss fractions, decimals, and percents, Number Talks investigations, and how to manage bumps in the road.
  • Chapter 11 focuses on how to move forward, including quotes from teachers around the country who have used Number Talks.

Just in time – a tool to stop learning loss

I cannot explain how this book came to me at the perfect time. I have been frustrated with student retention in math. As a fifth grade teacher, I notice that once we move on to a new concept, students often “lose” what they learned in the previous units. I see Number Talks as the answer to this problem.

I enjoyed reading the book while trying out the strategies in the operations chapters. I would ask my husband how he would solve the problem, and then would compare his ideas to how I solved the problem, along with the examples from the text. It was fun to see the different thinking and manipulation of numbers.

I learned new strategies I never knew existed. Did you know there is a WAY easier way to do long division? I wish Number Talks had been around when I was in school!

Some of my favorite takeaways after reading this book are:

  • If all students solve the problem in the same way ask, “How else could we think about this? Who thought of it differently?”
  • Help students express themselves more clearly. Ban “it” from the discussion. Press students to clarify what they mean by “it.”
  • “Number Talks (are) not about the ‘best’ way. Rather, they are about encouraging students to think in ways that make sense to them.”
  • “Confusion and struggle are natural, necessary, and even desirable parts of learning mathematics.”

A clear, thorough, efficient explanation

I plan on fully implementing Number Talks into my daily math routine. I feel confident that, after reading this book, I will be successful. The authors explained the concepts clearly and thoroughly, but in an efficient manner.

Knowing how important mathematical discussions are and the importance of strong number sense leads me to believe the 15-minute daily routine of Number Talks will be well worth the time required. Although I teach a self-contained 5th grade, I have no doubt that Making Number Talks Matter will also be valuable to full-time math teachers in the middle grades.

Jennifer Druffel is a fifth grade teacher in Spokane Valley, WA. She is endorsed in Elementary Education and K-12 Reading Instruction. She engages students through authentic experiences such as genius hour and blogging at MrsDruffelsClass-2. Being naturally driven to always better her practice and inspire her students fuels her research and connectedness as an educator. Follow her @MrsDruffel and



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