Dear Teacher: Some thoughts about writing in math

Dear Teacher Colleagues,

When I was still in my classroom, I loved having my students write during math (and all curriculum areas, really).  I had my students write a little every day at the end of each lesson.  In Texas, we have English Language Proficiency Standards that require that English Language learners are given the opportunity to listen, read, write and speak English, in order to help them acquire language.   By writing, I had them doing all of the parts nearly every day.

First, I set an alarm on my phone, and let the students choose the ringer.  When that ringer went off, it was time to wrap up for the day, and write.  I had sentence stems posted to help them get started.  They were free to use the posted stems or think of their own.  Examples of sentence stems or frames:

  • Today, I learned________________.
  • A strategy I tried was ___________.
  • I liked how____________ did the problem because ______________.

Once we cleaned up, and yes, sometimes, a lesson would have to be finished the next day, students had about a minute to think by themselves.  When think time was over, they would next tell a partner what they were going to write.  (Listening and speaking, here.)  After everyone had a chance to listen and speak, they would write in their journals.   The speaking was the practicing for the writing.   By listening to each other, they had a chance to hear other strategies, and vocabulary. Vocabulary words were posted as we came across them in our explorations.  Finally, we would either do a gallery walk and read each other’s journals, or one or two students would share out what they had written.  We have document cameras so student work could be placed under the camera for all to read along.

This is daily practice that really benefits student acquisition of language.  It also provides formative assessment for me, the teacher.  By reading my students’ entries, I can get an idea of where their thinking has progressed.  I can identify misconceptions, and address them in the moment, instead of waiting until a final assessment.

My last year in the classroom, I had many students who struggled.  In fact, each student struggled against several from the long list of things that make school challenging.

Here is a journal entry from the beginning of the year:

From September
From September

An then from the end of the year.   Note how much more writing.  She has added questions for herself.

One of her last entries
One of her last entries

When this student took the state test, her 4th grade reading and writing soared, and she passed!  She almost passed math, but she did have 1 years growth!   I’m convinced it is all the writing and speaking that she had to do during math (and science, too!)

I realize that the pictures blur her actual writing, but you can see the quantity of writing, along with pictures, and diagrams has increased.

As an instructional coach, I encourage writing in all areas as well.  I believe it is one of those little adjustments that yield big results.

Marilyn Burns, from Math Solutions, has written a great article that explains why and how there should be writing in  math class.  I’ve linked the article here, because I cannot explain it as clearly as Marilyn Burns has done.

I would love to hear from others who have included writing in their math classes!   What were your successes?   What were the struggles?  How did you overcome the struggles?

Here’s to great writing!

Leilani

#talkinginmath  #writinginmath

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