Talky, Talky, Talky. No More Talky.

Because I’m hyper-interested in helping to create a space where kids feel comfortable sharing ideas and making mistakes, I began my classes today with the Talking Points activity that Elizabeth Statmore (@cheesemonkeysf) shared at Twitter Math Camp this past summer.  Learning that a tight rule of No Comment was a cornerstone of the activity intrigued me to try it in my classroom.  Productive conversations in math class don’t happen automatically very often.  I’m hoping that using this process helps students to use exploratory talk around mathematics.

The No Comment was difficult for students, but I realized quickly, it was difficult for me as well.  For example, when debriefing with the whole class, I was tempted to comment…after each group presented.  I had to tell myself each time a group gave a summary that there wasn’t a need for my comment.  I was tempted to clarify thinking or give a follow up explanation.   I needed to let the groups own their experience.

This realization made me cognizant of the other times a comment by me is unnecessary following a student response.   How many times have I insisted on having the last word in the class?  How many times have I summarized a student’s thinking for him or her?  Hopefully, as students move toward being more exploratory with their discussions, I can move toward being less dominant in the conversation.


  1. First of all…LOVE the Billy Madison reference for your title. Amazing. I’m right there with you this year, trying to talk less, especially after students’ comments. I have the terrible habit of always wanting to summarize a student’s thought or explanation, and I’m constantly reminding myself not to do that this year. Let the students have their own voices and make listening to each other a top priority. Keep up the great work!

  2. I ***LOVE*** this summary that includes your own experience!!!

    The “no comment” rule is something I adapted to Talking Points from my years of teaching with and studying with writing practice and meditation teacher Natalie Goldberg. When we teach writing practice to students, we teach them “reading aloud” practice as well, which, as it turns out, also requires us to teach “just listening and receiving” practice. In many psychodynamic and inner development work, it is very important to learn how to REFRAIN FROM REACTING and to RESPECT OTHER PEOPLE’S BOUNDARIES. Reacting is our unconscious monkey mind’s way of worming its way in and helping us to cover up whatever it is trying to defend us from (fear, anxiety, desire to please, etc). When we do some sort of practice like this, we use the “no comment” rule because it creates a structure — and structure gives everyone a lot of space and permission to just be present with whatever is happening that does not originate with them.

    It is very hard in our culture to not-react. The same is true in math class. It is very hard for students (and teachers) to, as Megan so beautifully puts it, OWN their own experience. If students are to truly own their own mathematics, then they need to find their own voice, and part of the process of finding one’s voice is gaining practice in allowing it — allowing your own voice to come out, allowing your own voice to be heard, and allowing yourself to receive others’ voices as well.

    It’s been too onerous to gather all the needed permissions from students, parents, and districts to record video of the process of doing Talking Points, but I am hoping that maybe we can videotape some Talking Points work next year at Twitter Math Camp 2015. Max and others have pointed out how useful it would be, and I think it would be extremely valuable for others who want to see how the process works.

    – Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeysf)

  3. Interesting. I recall in grad classes being told to recap/summarize a student’s thoughts. I think that No Comment is okay in situations, but at the same time, what is wrong with verbal feedback? Or am I missing something? Just wondering.

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