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Dedicated to Teachers

How We Begin the School Year Is More Important Than Ever by Marilyn Burns

Listening to Learn is an exciting K–5 digital interview tool from highly respected educators Marilyn Burns and Lynne Zolli. Listening To Learn one-on-one assessments help teachers learn how their students reason numerically—the essential information they need to plan instruction. This blog comes from Marilyn Burns Math, where Marilyn regularly posts blogs, videos, and podcasts to help teachers help students learn math. Marilyn tweets at @mburnsmath.
Explore Listening to Learn: A K–5 Digital Interview Tool

Over the years, I’ve collaborated with Lynne Zolli and Patty Clark on a variety of projects.
We worked together creating this blog to share our thinking about how math interviews can serve teachers and students.

The first month of school has always been a time to get to know our students. We build the classroom climate, establish routines, and learn to work together. The time is well spent and pays dividends throughout the entire year. Now, after a difficult year of dealing with Covid, how we begin the school year is more important than ever. We need to learn as much as possible about each of our students so that we can provide the instruction they need to grow and learn.

  • Returning to Full-Time Face-to-Face Classrooms
    Most teachers are coming back to the classroom after a year of some combination of face-to-face and remote instruction. It may be hard to imagine adding something new to our teaching repertoires at this time, but we feel this is exactly the time to embrace a fresh approach. We suggest beginning the year with one-on-one math interviews to find out about how each student reasons numerically, which will provide an essential foundation for planning instruction. Also, interviews are a valuable tool for connecting with students personally and beginning to build the relationships that are important for supporting their mathematical learning.
  • About Learning Loss
    We’ve read and heard many concerns about students’ learning loss, about the gaps and misconceptions that have resulted from a year of Covid. However, instead of focusing on what students lack or might have lost, we prefer to focus on who they are and what they know. When we focus on what students know vs what they don’t know, we have a foundation of understanding that helps us best prepare to serve them. To accomplish that, one-on-one interviews open the door to learning about students and can provide information not available in any other way.
  • The Limits of Written Assessment
    We’ve also read and heard that we shouldn’t begin the school year by giving students assessments. We agree that paper-and-pencil tests can be a dismal way for students to begin a year of learning. However, finding out what students know and understand, is essential. Sitting with students during interviews, giving them our full attention and interest, and listening to how they explain their reasoning when solving problems, has a huge payoff and can help us learn more than written assignments are able to provide. A downside of relying on students’ written math assessments is that their correct answers can hide confusion while their incorrect answers can mask understanding. In contrast, we’ve found that talking with students one on one and listening to how they reason provides more specific, accurate, and in-depth insights.

About Listening to Learn
There is no substitute for connecting one-on-one with students, listening carefully to how they reason and giving them the time they need to think and revise their ideas. That’s why we’re excited that Listening to Learn is now available. This digital interview tool provides insights into where students are mathematically, useful for baseline information at the beginning of the year and also throughout the year to check on progress. Interviews not only help us uncover how students reason numerically, they also provide a way to truly get to know our students mathematically. Do they persevere when solving math problems? Are they able to use reasoning strategies to compute mentally? Are they fluent with basic facts? Are they confident? Hesitant? Persistent? Flexible? Willing to take mathematical risks?

From giving Listening to Learn interviews, we learn if our students have access to the reasoning strategies essential for their ongoing success with math. We learn if they’re able to communicate and express themselves using mathematical language. We learn how they feel about themselves as math learners.

We hope that you will consider using Listening to Learn interviews with your students. Once you give the interviews a try, we think you’ll wonder how you ever did without them!
Paint.ThreePhotos.081621Lynne Zolli and I are the co-authors of Listening to Learn, were part of the team that created Do The Math, and have worked together on many other projects. Patty Clark and I have recorded several podcasts together relating to my most recent book, Welcome to Math Class. She is the former Senior Director, Services Content Development at Math Solutions and is currently leading services and development strategy for Heinemann Math.

To learn more about Listening To Learn click the button below.
Explore Listening to Learn: A K–5 Digital Interview Tool

marilyn@2xMarilyn Burns is one of today’s most highly respected mathematics educators. Over the course of almost sixty years, Marilyn has taught children, led professional development sessions, spoken at conferences, contributed to professional journals, written a dozen books for children, and created more than twenty professional development publications for teachers and administrators. She is also a co-author of Do The Math, which is now available from Heinemann.


lynne@2xLynne Zolli was a classroom teacher in the San Francisco Unified School District for over forty years and taught grades 1 through 6. She also was a mentor teacher, professional development leader, Math Solutions instructor, and conference speaker. Lynne is a grant writer, an author of Math Solutions professional books, and a co-author of Listening to Learn and Do the Math, both of which are available from Heinemann.

Topics: Marilyn Burns, Listening to Learn, Lynne Zolli, Do The Math

Date Published: 09/14/21

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