Recently I have visited a lot of math lessons where turn-and-talks are frequent and intentional, and I want us to celebrate and encourage that practice.
Teaching math with intentional student discourse involves taking risks, but they are risks worth taking.. These are some of these risks and ways to overcome them:
It might be disruptive and might not work. When you ask your students to talk to each other during a lesson, you run the risk of creating a noisy, disruptive environment. For this reason, we need to have students practice a specific protocol for turn-and-talks. Make sure they are using indoor voices. It is also helpful to have explicit instructions for what to discuss, and make sure they only last a minute or so. I encourage everyone to have students practice math turn-and-talks, because math is something students don't always feel comfortable talking about. You could say, for example:
OK, friends, let's practice a turn-and-talk. Here's what I would like you to discuss. 13 plus 12. What is the answer, and what are two different ways to show or prove your answer is correct. Ready? OK, turn and talk.
You might wish to add extra protocols, like making sure each partner has a chance to talk.
OK, one, two, three, eyes on me. (Wait for all to respond stop talking).. Now I would like you to turn-and-talk again, just to make sure both partners had a chance to speak. Turn and talk again now please.
Practicing and re-teaching protocols for math talk is really important during the middle of the year to maintain the most productive and comfortable learning environment.
I used to wonder if too many turn-and-talks might mean too many transitions and disruptions to learning. Could Turn-and-talks could get old? This is actually not something to worry about. You can have students turn and talk repeatedly in one mini-lesson, three or four times in just a few minutes. As long as you encourage them to use the protocols, if there are things to talk about, give them the opportunity to do so. The more they do this, the more comfortable they will become communicating their thinking with one another, with you, to their class, and on paper. The benefits of turn-and-talks are especially great in math classes and every class should be utilizing them (in my humble opinion..). It is a good idea to insert a little space or discussion between turn-and-talks, but the actually risk of doing them too often is almost zero.
Not enough turn-and-talks is the greatest risk of all... When your students are not communicating with each other about their thinking in math on a regular basis, they are not getting opportunities to reflect on their work, to reflect on their own thinking, and to hear the thinking of their peers. Critiquing and analyzing the mathematical thinking of others is an important mathematical practice, and turn-and-talks are a critical way to make that happen.
It's important to diversify students' conversational experiences in math. Turn-and-talks, small group work, class discussions, peer conferences, partner work-- They all provide excellent opportunities for students to reflect on their own thinking and learn from their peers. But Turn-and-talks are special, in that they offer students a chance to communicate directly with a partner about an idea that is right there in the moment. They only take a few seconds, and they keep your students engaged in your lesson. If you would like support from a colleague in using turn-and-talks in math lessons, chances are good you have someone right next door or across the hall who can help you... Or you can ask your friendly math strategist to come model turn-and-talks in math.