Talk Moves

Glendale PS

Student Work Study Overview

The Student Work Study Inititaive (SWS) is a collaborative inquiry between classroom teachers (Host Teachers) and Student Work Study Teachers (SWST) involving the

co-planning, co-teaching and co-debriefing of student learning. The professional goal is to positively impact students by applying a growth ethos when helping them build upon their existing and developing abilities. It is student need, determined through the collection of data (observations, conversations and products), that drive the instructional strategies then used by teachers to deliver the curriculum content.


During the 2015-2016 academic years, there were seven SWS teachers in the Peel District School Board. Each teacher was assigned to two schools which included both the elementary and secondary panels. SWS teachers spent two days in each school for a half the year, or in some instances, spent 2 days in one school for the whole year. The SWST had access from the system to 10 supply teacher release days to facilitate the co-planning, and co-debriefing components of the inquiry. At the end of the collaborative inquiry, the SWST wrote a digital report for the Board and the Ontario Ministry of Education that reflected the applied research experience.

Socio-educational Context

The School

The fieldwork for this study was conducted in a K-5 public school in Brampton, Ontario from February of 2016 to June of 2016 (wrap up sessions). The SWST spent two days per week at the school. 340 students attended the school from a range of cultural backgrounds.

The Students

The collaboration occurred in a grade 1 class, with an experienced primary teacher. There were 19 students in the class. The classroom was a standalone class located in the primary wing of the school. There were roughly 50% boys and 50% girls. The class had a student with exceptionally challenging behavioural needs, who required frequent monitoring by classroom teacher and support staff. There were also two special needs students, one of whom attended school part time with TA allocation.

The Teachers

2 teachers participated in this collaborative inquiry, including the Student Work Study Teacher (SWST), and the classroom teacher. The classroom teacher was responsible for delivering most curricular areas, with the exception of physical education, music and drama. The primary team at this school collaborated often, both with grade team partners, and as a division, when time allowed.

How Did it All Start?

The impetus for this inquiry came from a combination of student observations and wonderings by both the host teacher and the SWST. The host teacher had noted that “students were able to discuss and use strategies and concepts when sitting in whole group settings, but that when they went to work on their own or in partners, they were unable to apply and use those same strategies.”

The SWST noted that even though students were leaving the group area stating that they were aware of the expectations of a given task, once they got seated and began working with their partners it was clear (through probing) that (some of them) did not actually understand what was being asked of them. This caused conflict among some partners, delays in getting started, as well as work that headed in the ‘wrong direction’.

Further, it was observed by both the host and the SWS that students were not ‘fully engaged’ during strategy sharing consolidation presentations. It was postulated to possibly be because the students in the audience were not being held accountable for the material being presented.

The suggestion was made to make use of ‘The Talk Moves’ in the classroom in order to address the above.

Additionally, the host and SWS teachers were interested in engaging the students as ‘co-researchers’ (as much as possible) in this inquiry.

What are ‘The Talk Moves’

The ‘Talk Moves’ are a set of strategies which facilitate students in their sharing of ideas, “that support mathematical thinking, talk formats that provide different ways to organize students for conversation, and ideas for creating a classroom where respect and equal access to participation are values norms.” (Chapin, O’Connor, and Anderson 2003)

In this inquiry, the intention was for the talk moves to be used by both the teachers (to guide discussion and increase accountability) and the students (when strategy sharing and interacting in problem solving). This is supported by Kazemi and Hintz’s research in their book ‘Intentional Talk’: “The beauty of the authors five talk moves is that they can guide both teacher talk and student talk.”

For the purposes of this inquiry, the following five talk moves were the focus:

  • Revoicing – Repeat some or all of what the student has said, then ask the student to respond and verify whether or not the revoicing is correct.
  • Repeating – Ask a student to repeat or rephrase what another student said.
  • Reasoning – Ask students to compare their own reasoning to someone else’s reasoning.
  • Adding On – Prompt students, inviting them to participate in the conversation or to clarify their own thinking.
  • Wait Time – Wait after asking a question before calling on a student.

(Kazemi & Hintz 2014)

Why 'Talk Moves'?

As we move further into our understanding of the ways in which children learn mathematics, we see the importance of purposeful conversation in helping students to understand mathematics and to become critical thinkers and sense makers. The key here is that these conversations be purposeful and move beyond the traditional “show and share” model: “Knowing what to do with students’ ideas and teaching children how to meaningfully participate in discussions can be a lot more daunting.” (Kazemi and Hintz 2014)

Please visit the following S'more on mathematical discourse in the classroom:

Theory of Action

A theory of action was developed: “If we introduce students to ‘The Talk Moves’, with associated prompts, then their understanding of mathematical concepts will deepen. Further, if we include students in the research process then a deeper investment will be created.”

Where to start?

Engaging Students as Co-Researchers

One of the goals for the collaborative inquiry was to, as much as possible, include the students as co-researchers with the host and SWS teacher. In the monograph “Student Identity and Engagement in Elementary Schools” (May 2011) the work of Hargreaves and Shirley is cited: “urging education leaders and policy makers to ensure that students are recognized as ‘partners in change rather than merely targets of change efforts and services – more involved in their own learning and learning choices, actively consulted about the quality and improvement of teaching, and substantially engaged in the overall governance of the school and its development.’ ”

Further the monograph states:

“Involving students as “partners in change” invites us to:

  • Support students in playing a more active role in their learning
  • Include student voice in planning learning opportunities

Throughout the remainder of the inquiry there was discussion between the SWST and host about how authentically the students had been engaged as co-researchers. The students had not been involved in developing the theory of action, and were not involved in the selection of the ‘Talk Moves’ as a strategy for learning. However, the students were given the opportunity to view “data” and draw conclusions (this will be explored in the next section), and it was felt that in terms of a continuum of “co-researching” we had moved the students beyond being ‘passive’ and that much further towards being in control of the inquiry.


As part of an introductory activity for their measurement unit the students were tasked with measuring the ‘Easter Bunny’s” foot. They were given a cut out form of a bunny paw print and the following prompt: How big is the Easter Bunny's foot? How do you know? Be ready to share your thinking with the class.

The students were given access to manipulatives: snap cubes, counters, marbles, shells etc. from which they could select and then measure the foot. This was done in a variety of ways by the different groups, some did the width, some the length, and some even the perimeter. A number of groups measured more than one feature.

The groups were then instructed to "talk about this, be ready to share their thinking".

The SWST recorded the presentations of the students. This seven minute video was later shared with the students for their initial research. An excerpt of the video appears here:

Talk Moves - Pre-Assessment

The focus of this video was the audience and their engagement with the students who were sharing strategies. As can be seen, there were several students ‘off task’, having side conversations, calling for the attention of others, moving up on to desks.

The audience questions were also found to be more simplistic, and in some cases had been already answered during the presentations.

Initial “Researcher” Findings

The entire video from the strategy sharing session was uploaded to a private YouTube link which was then made available to all students in the computer lab on a shared SWST and host release day, the host and SWST had previously viewed and discussed this video on that same day.

Prior to viewing the video the students engaged in a class discussion with the host teacher about what it meant to be a researcher:

What does a researcher do?

Student answers -> Finds things they want to research about. Find things they want to read. Find things they want to learn more about. Find out something, and then do something with it. We can do research at home.

Discussion that research is not making judgement, it's observations, it's not saying that someone is good or bad.

Student M -> I think you're supposed to watch a video and then think about it and talk about it.

Students were put in triads to discuss what they saw in the videos. They were to focus on the audience, and record what they saw as either being a sad face or a happy face. SWST worked with the two students of mystery, as well as another student who they often worked with. Scribed and prompted as necessary.

The host and SWST examined the student responses to find 'evidence' of the five talk moves; revoicing, repeating, reasoning, adding on, wait time. These talk moves would then be introduced/taught to the students to use during presentations. We were able to find evidence of all but two; repeating (which was sometimes done unintentionally during presentations in the form of a question), and adding on.

One of the students of mystery 'A' was in the group that the SWST working with. During the strategy sharing she sought to clarify a question that her group was being asked by another student, she did this by 'revoicing' what he was asking by saying "So what you're asking is…"

Student "A" Re-Voices an Audience Question

I wanted to ask her further about this. I asked her if she remembered what she did when 'M' asked a question: "I think I asked his question". I prompted further ,why? ->

"I was helping him to see what he was asking, so that he would know what to say."

Co-Researching Possibilities

The host and SWST again discussed how to authentically include the students as researchers. That we had gathered 'input' from them (based on our documentation), but what steps could we take going forward? What research could the students do? Suggested that the students be shown different 'audience videos' or read certain books.

The host teacher suggested that the students could be given the opportunity to observe strategy sharing in an older grade. That we would set them up as researchers, to look at the audience, and also how the audience interacts with the presenters. (The results of this will be discussed later in the document).

Getting Started – Anchor Charts and Desk Cards

Returned to the classroom to show the students their "research" and conduct an initial lesson on talk moves….

Students asked what we would do with their data "We're going to put it all together". Host instructed students that their work was compiled into the 'Talk Moves', and that these are for mathematicians, as they do a lot of talking about their thinking. What we're trying to do as researchers is to help us all become better mathematicians.

The talk moves were modeled for the students, they had difficulty reading some of the words on the charts. Students seemed to have the most difficulty with understanding re-voicing and adding on.

In order to practice with the 'Talk Moves' students were given the following task: “A person has 12 marbles held in 2 pockets, how many marbles might be in each pocket?”

Working in pairs to solve the problem, students presented their findings to the class while the teacher facilitated the use of the ‘Talk Moves’ among the group.

Following the strategy sharing there was a class discussion about the use of the ‘Talk Moves’:

Did the strategies help you focus? Yes.

What can we do to help you learn these strategies better? E - Talk about them more.

Mak - "Show us more…"

Mat - "I think she means…"

SWST teacher prompt -> Mat, when you just spoke after what Mak said and started with "I think she means…What talk move were you using?"

Mat: "I think I was revoicing".

Using Talk Moves to Clarify Understanding

There were a number of instances over the course of the inquiry in which the host, as well as the SWST, noted that students were leaving ‘carpet instruction time’ seemingly having a grasp on what the task they were being asked to complete was, but observation of partnered work time showed that there was task confusion.

In one case the students were to be measuring the height of a box using snap cubes, one group was observed firstly disagreeing about what the task was, then measuring width using thumbs as well as markers until the host teacher intervened.

In another instance, students were given a parallel task to solve involving a problem which allowed them to select a smaller or larger number to work with. Students confused this task and some groups ended up trying to work with both numbers, other groups copied exactly the sample problem provided by the teacher.

In these cases much time was lost by the students heading off “in the wrong direction”.

The SWST postulated to the host teacher that by having the students re-voice or repeat instructions prior to leaving the group and engaging in partner work might cut down on the misunderstandings and associated lost time.

Even being given a “warning” that they may be called upon will remind students that they are accountable for the learning that is taking place.

Talk Moves - You May Be Called Upon

This was put to the test a short time later: In a math task students were put in partners and given a cue card with a value on it (from $0.11 up to $0.18). Students were to first discuss with their partner how they would make the amount with coins. Host teacher employed repeating talk move (calling on A and then B – our students of mystery) to repeat the instructions she gave, as well as what other students had said about the assignment. Following this, the SWST called the students individually into the hall to ask them what the task was. Both were able to repeat back what the instructions were, with A being more confident in the task. B stated that they were making the 'number' on the card, and required prompting to state that they were making the 'number' from coins. A was able to repeat the instructions with confidence.

Anecdotally, it appeared that being called on to 'repeat' the instructions caused B to appear more engaged in listening.

Students then sat in a circle and shared how they made their amounts. They were called to 'add on' to agree or disagree with what each had done. Using this prompt, a student 'S' suggested to one of the groups that they could have replaced 5 pennies with a nickel. Host teacher called praised this 'adding on'. This encouraged other students to raise their hands who wanted to add on.

Continued Co-“Researching”

Looking for 'Talk Moves' Evidence

The host and SWST wished to continue to engage the students as co-researchers, and as such decided to follow up with the idea of having the grade 1 students visit an older grade to look for evidence of the ‘Talk Moves’ in practice.

The stage for this was set by the host teacher visiting the grade 5 class and explaining what the talk moves were.

The grade 1 students were again informed that they would be taking on the role of co-researchers and looking for evidence of the ‘Talk Moves’ being used by the older students. This was cause for a great amount of excitement, both at being researchers and being able to visit an older classroom.

Students were given a tracking sheet and a quick refresher lesson on tally marks.

The grade 5 students were engaged in a conversation on their front carpet regarding transformational geometry using the text book. Students were called to the center of the circle to demonstrate performance task.

The grade 1 students were seated at the classroom desks. They had a clipboard with their tracking sheets. The SWST was also completing a tracking sheet.

Debriefing and Analyzing

In debriefing with the grade one class they were asked what they noticed about the grade fives sharing circle:

"Adding on."

"They were listening, being quiet."

"They were not touching anyone else, and they were looking at the speaker."

"Instead of forgetting what they were going to say, they used wait time."

Students stated that they really enjoyed the experience. Some students commented that the "older kids could have 'been better' at the talk moves and that maybe they 'needed more time.'"

Review of the SWST tracking found that the majority of the results were in the 'Adding On' category, followed secondly by 'revoicing'. It was also noted though, that these talk moves were used by the students only when prompted by the classroom teacher, I.e. "Anybody else?" "Anything else?" Or calling on students to revoice what another had said.

Also of note, there was no evidence of repeating being used, either spontaneously or following teacher prompt.

When looking at the student tracking sheets, they also displayed a similar 'spread' for results; the majority in adding on, followed by revoicing. Particularly of interest, of the 12 samples collected from the students 7 had not recorded any results in the repeating box (yet had seen results in other talk move categories). This would seem to indicate that the students were able to grasp the talk moves, as their findings as researchers were similar to that of the SWST.

Collaborative Inquiry Key Learning

Rethinking 10-3=5

In this video, the host teacher makes use of the 'Talk Moves' to guide a student in revising a misunderstanding that they had, the student later demonstrates proficiency with their new thinking. Finally, the new understanding, and confidence, allows her to contribute to an extension of the original problem.
Rethinking 10-3=5

The Talk Moves in Action

Talk Moves - Wait Time
Talk Moves - Repeating
Talk Moves - Reasoning

Student Quotes

“We’re thinking more to know more.”

“You can use wait time to think about what you’re going to say.”

“Wait time, everybody in the class likes wait time, because if they forget something they can remember it.”

“They help me think and concentrate, if I forget something I'll use wait time. I like revoicing and adding on, and I like reasoning.”

“Quiet time. You have to be quiet and think what you're doing. Adding on is something that people say and you have something to say after.”

“That if you revoicing what someone else says you're adding on to the persons thinking/saying.”

“They help you by the revoicing helps you by saying what other people say and you got it in your head and you make sure you say it after.”

“Because when we're doing math, adding on, helps me to add on to other people's thinking. And revoicing and repeating and reasoning. If somebody is doing a math problem, and they're doing it wrong, I can disagree with them or agree with them.”

Educator Quotes

Talk Moves have given my students a purpose for listening as well as the sentence starters to help them share their thinking.

I talk about how amazing the books were and how easy it was to incorporate into my classroom. (In regards to sharing with other staff).

I think it is so important to have programs like this so that we continue to improve upon our teaching practices and help keep student learning and engagement exciting and meaningful. (In regards to engaging with in the SWS program).

Further Areas of Exploration

  • How to include students as co-researchers from start to finish. Have them develop the theory of action etc.
  • Will students begin to independently use the moves, without teacher prompting
  • Level of support required to achieve independence
  • How would these Talk Moves look if they were used all year?
  • What will happen next year, if the current class continues to use them (Talk Moves)?

Works Cited List

5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions. (Margaret S. Smith and Mary Kay Stein)

Intentional Talk. How to Structure and Lead Productive Mathematical Discussions (Elham Kazemi and Allison Hintz)

Student Identity and Engagement in Elementary Schools (May 2011)

ASSESSPEEL Learning Goals and Success Criteria Monograph.

Michael Bennie

Student Work Study Teacher

Peel District School Board