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What Does Research Say the Benefits of Discussion in Math Class Are?

Introducing new material in mathematics class in the United States has typically been done through teacher presentations of a few sample problems followed by demonstrations of how to solve them. The step-by-step demonstrations are often carried out by asking short-answer questions of students along the way (Stigler & Hiebert, 1999). Over the last 20 years, however, mathematics educators have observed and analyzed alternatives to recitation, the questioning pattern described above. In particular, a growing body of literature supports the use of discussion in mathematics class. In this brief, after describing and providing examples of recitation and discussion, some benefits of discussion in mathematics class will be presented. These recommendations are based on published studies that suggest that discussion is a productive alternative to other more passive talk formats. In short, discussion can: 

• Increase student learning 

• Motivate students 

• Support teachers in understanding and assessing student thinking 

• Shift the mathematical authority from teacher (or textbook) to community

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