“One of the causes of failure in mathematics is poor comprehension of the words and phrases used.”
Primary School Maths Curriculum, P.6
An integral aim of the maths curriculum is to enable the child to use mathematical language effectively and accurately. The ability to talk about ideas gives the pupils the potential to be efficient mathematical problem solvers, and thereby enables them to take on more challenging work. In order to do this there are two important elements to consider: the teacher and the child.
The teacher is the single most person that will influence how a child talks about maths and what vocabulary they will use. The teacher therefore needs to ensure that they are always speaking correctly and modelling the language using the correct mathematical vocabulary. Children may not pick up the language easily, however, and thus the importance of consistency and repetition of the correct vocabulary is vital.
As outlined above, the teacher is single most person that will influence how a child talks about maths. However that influence will go unnoticed unless the child has the opportunity to practise the language. Children need opportunities in every single lesson to talk about the maths using appropriate vocabulary. Why not give each pair of pupils an activity where there is no recording expected and just allow them to talk and discuss the maths for 3-4 minutes?
Questioning can combine both of the elements above. We all know that teachers ask a lot of questions during the day (approximately 400 every day!) so it is really important that we think about what these questions are really asking and are they valuable for the lesson? Most of the questions asked are closed questions, that is, they have only one answer. For example, how many sides does a rectangle have?
However by slightly adapting these closed questions in a maths lesson they can tell us a lot more about a child’s level of understanding, for example, what can you tell me about this rectangle? Now the child can answer the question with multitude of responses and the teacher will have a better insight about their understanding of shape in this case.
You can also take the questioning a bit further and ask some clarifying questions. These will probe the child to think more deeply about the topic. For example, could this six-sided shape be a triangle? Why/why not? Now the child will be defending their knowledge of rectangles and applying it in a different situation.