Mathematically Accountable Talk

Excerpts from the Institute for Learning website

(Math 3325 Principles of Math, Fall 2001, Dr. Duval)

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What is Accountable Talk?
Accountable talk sharpens students' thinking by reinforcing their ability to use and create knowledge. Teachers create the norms and skills of accountable talk in their classrooms by modeling appropriate forms of discussion and by questioning, probing, and leading conversations. For example, teachers may press for clarification and explanation, require justifications of proposals and challenges, recognize and challenge misconceptions, demand evidence for claims and arguments, or interpret and "revoice" students' statements. Over time, students can be expected to carry out each of these conversational "moves" themselves in peer discussions.
Because talk is always about something, it doesn't really make sense to focus on talk out of context. In order to recognize and support accountable talk, it is critical to focus on the activities and tasks that are carried along by the talk. It's impossible to identify "good" or "productive" or "accountable" talk without taking into consideration the goals, topics, and content of the lesson, and the relationship of the learners to each other and to the task at hand. For this reason, in thinking about and promoting accountable talk, we are always moving from purposes to activities to talk.

To a great extent, talk is the currency of the classroom community. Socializing intelligence takes place in and through talk. Therefore, all students have a right to engage in accountable talk, not just the "best and brightest," nor only those who are struggling in school. It is not something that should be limited to special times of the day, or to special groups of students. And we should expect to find accountable talk across all grade levels and in all subject areas.

Accountable talk is not something that springs spontaneously from students' mouths: accountable talk is jointly constructed by teachers and students, working together towards rigorous academic purposes in a thinking curriculum. It takes time and effort to create a classroom environment in which accountable talk is a valued norm. Organizing the community for accountable talk calls for designing activities and tasks in ways that support productive talk on the part of students. It requires teachers to guide and scaffold student participation. A range of talk formats, particular teacher moves, and norms for equitable and respectful participation have been shown to support accountable talk.