Facilitating Partner Talk Virtually

Facilitating Partner Talk Virtually

Dr. Madelyn W. Colonnese, University of North Carolina Charlotte, mcolonn1@uncc.edu

Ms. Julie Bacak, University of North Carolina Charlotte, jabacak@uncc.edu


The move from face-to-face to virtual learning due to COVID-19 created many opportunities to re-imagine the pedagogies used to facilitate a mathematics methods course. One instructional practice that we frequently use with our preservice teachers (PSTs) is partner talk. Partner talk provides learners an opportunity to hear the ideas of others, practice sharing thinking in a smaller context, ask and formulate questions to ask, and to build confidence (Burns, 2004; Chapin, O’Connor and Anderson, 2013). Additionally, partner talk provides instructors the ability to informally check for understanding. However, as methods instructors, we found that we needed to think creatively about how to facilitate partner talk virtually.


Problem of Practice

We wanted our PSTs to engage in partner talk to 1) advance their own understanding of course content and 2) consider how this might be used with their own students to help facilitate classroom discussions. Zoom offers tools such as break-out rooms, the chat, and unmuting to facilitate discussions. Yet, we found partner talk difficult to enact using these tools. In brainstorming how we could encourage partner talk, we discussed ways teachers typically organize partners in their classrooms, such as elbow partners and peanut butter and jelly partners. We also talked about ways to replicate the efficient, low-stress format of traditional partner talk while granting instructors access to students’ emerging ideas.


Virtual Partner Talk

To accomplish this, we created slide decks using Google slides to engage our PSTs in partner talk (see Figure 1). Rather than turning to talk to the person sitting next to them in class, PSTs shared their ideas with the other members of their “Taco Party”. This format allowed the instructors to monitor student thinking on the slide deck similarly to how we would when circulating through the physical classroom. Like with in-person partner talk, the “Taco Party” format provided students with an opportunity to question peers and articulate their thinking before engaging in whole-group discussion.


Figure 1. Three PSTs’ discussing if the expressions 33 - 20 and 32 - 19 have the same value during a “Taco Party”. The arrow signals that Diana would respond to Kyla’s idea.

Note: All names are pseudonyms


What We Noticed About PST Learning

Maintaining high levels of engagement during virtual learning was challenging at times, but the “Taco Party” encouraged all students to participate in the class discussion as the peer response format built in an element of accountability. During the semester, PSTs also planned and enacted two virtual teaching rehearsals. After completing the first round of rehearsals, several PSTs reflected on the lack of peer-to-peer interaction in their lesson. Before completing their second rehearsals, the “Taco Party” format was shared in class. Some PST teaching pairs used this format in their second rehearsals. Others adapted the format using technologies, such as Jamboard or Pear Deck, to facilitate partner talk. This is significant as many of our PSTs shared their beliefs that virtual teaching is a skill they will need as a future and that our PSTs considered creating opportunities for peer interaction in a virtual environment as a necessary component for teaching mathematics.



Burns, M. (2004). Writing in Math, Educational Leadership, 62(2), 30 - 33.

Chapin, S. H., O’Connor, C., & Anderson, N. C. (2013). Classroom Discussions in Math: A teacher’s guide for using talk moves to support the Common Core and more. Scholastic   Inc.

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