• Alex Box

Number Talks: a life-changing discovery

Updated: May 16

I used to believe that I wasn´t a maths person. I was, though, a passionate teacher who would try anything to reach all learners across the curriculum. I had the best intentions when confiding in struggling learners (usually girls) that I also found maths difficult - that it ´wasn´t my subject either´. At the time, I was unaware of the role these words played in perpetuating damaging cultural myths about maths intelligence. That unawareness wasn´t my fault. It´s just how it was.


Then, in 2016, I visited a school where a very different approach and experience around maths was visible across all year levels. I saw Cognitive Guided Instruction in action and was introduced to Jo Boaler´s book, Mathematical Mindsets. I started to engage with a very new kind of reading material about maths instruction and, for the first time, I began to entertain the idea of doing maths myself - for fun! I was eager to start applying this new knowledge in the classroom.


Number Talks was the pedagogical approach which completely transformed my experience of teaching maths.




I was engaging the whole class. I was talking less and students were talking more. Not only were they talking more, they wanted to talk - to share their mathematical thinking and have it recorded accurately as a result of their precise explanations. They were also listening to each other, and visibly learning from the ideas being shared. The practice of mathematical reasoning soon became embedded in the maths learning culture. Students´ confidence in Number grew quickly, seemingly overnight! Their mathematical voices became visible.


In this 20 second number talk excerpt, 5-year-old Mim explains how she saw seven on a ten frame. 7-year-old Raf supports her precision.

Several years on from struggling to reach every student in Maths, I count number talks as a life-changing discovery. The pedagogical shifts fit so well with the kind of educator I want to be. 💙



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