By Laurie Speranzo and Kristin Klingensmith

Institute for Learning

Educators who believe that every student has meaningful ideas to contribute can use learner-centered routines to ensure that every student is actively engaged in a math discussion. These routines create space for students to reason about the mathematics of the task in ways that make sense to them using their knowledge from both inside and outside of the classroom. Using learner-centered routines gives teachers multiple opportunities for formative assessment within a single lesson from which they can make adjustments in real-time to better meet where students are in their understanding.

To School Leaders & Coaches

These routines support learning at all ages, so consider if and how you might use these routines during in-person and online professional learning to support deeper understanding of the ideas being explored and discussed with other educators.

Based on two decades of experience with in-person teaching and learning and several years of engaging in online teaching and learning, here are four go-to learner-centered routines to use while facilitating meaningful mathematics discussions in-person and online.

  1. Turn and Talk
  2. Stop and Jot
  3. Step Back
  4. Quick Write

When used consistently, these routines enhance Accountable Talk® discussions in mathematics, support engagement, and scaffold learning.

1. Turn and Talk

Why Use a Turn and Talk?

Turn and Talks create space for students in groups of 2 to 3 to share their ideas related to the mathematics being explored and hear the ideas of others. Turn and Talks are an informal way for teachers to assess (little “a”) where students are in their thinking. Teachers can and should use the insights gained from a Turn and Talk to inform the direction of the mathematics discussion.

Tips for Using Turn and Talks

Turn and Talks are low-risk talk opportunities that can be useful throughout a discussion because students get a chance to “try out” and “rehearse” their thinking alongside others. Turn and Talks are a great go-to after 10 seconds or more of wait time when students need to talk through their thinking before being ready to share with the whole group. If you are familiar with Accountable Talk moves, Turn and Talks are particularly beneficial when used in combination with the moves: challenging, pressing for reasoning, or expanding reasoning.


Adapting Turn and Talks for Online Discussions

In person Turn and Talks are as easy as turning and talking with a neighbor, and allow the teacher to listen in to get a feel for student thinking. Turn and Talks are not as easy to replicate online but are still important for supporting student thinking and engagement.

For online Turn and Talks try

  • moving students into breakout rooms with just 2-3 people for a very brief amount of time.
  • asking students to mute their mics and say their thinking aloud to themselves.
  • establishing Turn and Talk partners so that students can chat privately with a pre-assigned peer via the chat box.

Though online Turn and Talks do not afford the opportunity to “overhear” the Turn and Talk of others, all of the adaptations offer students’ the opportunity to put their thinking into words and to rehearse how they want to express their understanding. Because students cannot be overheard, teachers may want to have a few students share out to the class what they said aloud to themselves or what was shared during their exchange with a peer. If planned in advance, a teacher may pair a Turn and Talk with a multi-select poll to see which ideas resonated with the students following their Turn and Talk.

2. Stop and Jot

Why Use a Stop and Jot?

Stop and Jots provide each student time to collect and record their thinking as it relates to the mathematical idea or relationship currently being discussed. Stop and Jots are commonly used during critical points of discussions and usually involve students adding something new to their written work. This provides teachers the chance to casually check on student thinking as they walk around and glance over students’ shoulders. The information gathered from glancing at students’ Stop and Jots can be used to determine the pathway of the discussion.

Tips for Using Stop and Jots

Because Stop and Jots start out as private thinking time, students tend to feel more comfortable expressing their initial, and possibly incomplete or unfinished, thoughts. Stop and Jots can ask students to write about how two concepts are related, create another or connect two representations, record another/different equation, describe a situation, etc. When using a Stop and Jot, teachers may look for patterns in responses, unique responses, and responses that suggest over-generalizations, to determine what to “take up” next in the discussion.


Adapting Stop and Jots for Online Discussions

During online discussions, it isn’t as easy to sneak a peek at what students jot, so consideration has to be given to low-risk ways for students to share their jotting.

For online Stop and Jots try

  • asking students to write their thoughts on paper and having those who are comfortable share orally or, in the case of visual models or equations, by holding the paper up to the camera.
  • inviting students to type or draw in a shared document.
  • having students use the chat box to share their thinking with the teacher only or with the whole group.
  • using (or a similar platform) so that students can text their responses anonymously and have them collected on a single shared screen.

When making a choice about how to have students share their ideas after a Stop and Jot, keep in mind that some students may feel more comfortable sharing what they wrote verbally than actually sharing their writing. Things like spelling, sentence construction, and use of formal math language are not and should not be a focus during Stop and Jots.

3. Step Back

Why Use a Step Back?

Step Backs offer an opportunity for students to reflect verbally on key learnings from across the entire discussion and to share their conclusions or generalizations with the whole group. Step Backs offer teachers a glimpse into how students are taking stock of the ideas being discussed and their progress toward the mathematical learning goal. They also allow students to again hear the salient and mathematically critical ideas that surfaced during the discussion.

Tips for Using Step Backs

Step Backs are best used following big “ah ha” moments related to the learning goals for the lesson. These moments may occur in the middle or at the end of a discussion and sometimes both. Use Step Backs to create space for students to ponder and consider the Why of the big “ah ha” moment(s).


Adapting Step Backs for Online Discussions

Step Backs do not need to be adapted for online discussions, but they may be used more frequently to help students hold on to critical ideas as understanding is constructed.

For online Step Backs try

  • pre-determining several places during the discussion to do a Step Back so that the discussion has multiple summary points that culminate by the end of the discussion.
  • having at least one or two students “say back in their own words” the teacher’s summary so that others can hear it more than one time and students have a chance to paraphrase the key ideas.
  • varying who is responsible, teacher or students, for summarizing the discussion at a given point.

4. Quick Write

Why Use a Quick Write?

Quick Writes create space for each student to put their thoughts into writing, allowing them to take stock of their knowledge, reflect on their learning, and/or apply their insights, generalizations, and conclusions in a new way. Quick Writes can and should be used as formative assessment because they contain evidence of each student’s thinking and reasoning, especially after engaging in an Accountable Talk discussion.

Tips for Using Quick Writes

Quick Writes can be used at the beginning of a unit of study to learn about students’ prior knowledge. Quick Writes can also be used toward the end of or following a math discussion or summary. In this case, it is important to make sure that the Quick Write relates directly to the mathematical learning goal of the lesson.  Additionally, students and teachers can gain insight about how learning is progressing over time by using Quick Writes after each lesson in a series.


Adapting Quick Writes for Online Discussions

Quick Writes can be used when teaching online in much the same way they are used in-person. The adaption to Quick Writes is mostly about how students will submit them.

For online Quick Writes try

  • having students write a response in the chat but wait until everyone is done writing before sending it so that no one’s thinking is compromised by reading others’ responses.
  • setting up a Padlet (or similar applet) for students to submit their responses and comment on the thoughts of others, using a combination of multi-media options: text, pictures, drawings, and video.
  • having students submit their response via an online form or through email.
  • using a shared document or slide deck.

When making a decision about how to have students submit their Quick Writes, consideration should be given to what the submission option affords. Some options only allow written responses, while other options offer the ability for students to create images and upload pictures or video.

The second article in this two-part series will be released December 1 and will explore how these four learner-centered routines can be used to foster student voice and agency and support students in developing positive mathematical identities as doers of mathematics.


Tell Us About the Learner-Centered Routines You Use

  • Which of these routines do you already use? How is it going?
  • Which of the routines might you add to your toolbox? Why?
  • What other routine do you recommend? Why?

Tell us here.