Preschool Math Conversations: An Ethnographic Study of One Classroom
U.S. students fall behind those in many other developed countries in international benchmarking exams for mathematics. Math instruction in the U.S. generally begins in earnest in first grade even though current research in neuroscience and cognitive science shows that preschool-age children are ready to learn about mathematics. Education research links the importance of verbal communication and mathematics for children in K-12 settings. However, little research exists on verbal communication in mathematics lessons at the preschool level. The current ethnographic study explored mathematical conversations in one private preschool classroom. Participants were a Taiwanese-American teacher and her 10 high-SES, ethnically and linguistically diverse students. Data included observations of math lessons that took place in the classroom and interviews with the teacher. Data were analyzed using the constant comparison method. The results showed that the teacher progressed through three phases as she developed a distinct conversation style that she used with her students. Ten teacher conversation strategies were identified. Employment of these conversation strategies prompted teacher and students to coconstruct sociomathematical norms. As a result of this coconstruction, conversation increasingly became developmentally appropriate. Implications for instruction include the imperative that teachers of preschool-age children engage these students in productive mathematical conversation using research-based conversation strategies. Recommendations for future research include the quantitative measurement of how teacher conversation strategies impact student test scores.