Writing in Mathematics

Featured Topic: Writing in Math Class

Teachers incorporate writing in math class to help students reflect on their learning, deepen their understanding of important concepts by explaining and providing examples of those concepts, and make important connections to real-life applications of the math they are learning.   Teachers use the writing assignments to assess student understanding of important concepts, student proficiency in explaining and using those concepts and each student's attitude toward learning mathematics.   Writing in mathematics is a win-win for both teacher and student.   Although it may be difficult to introduce this practice, it is well worth the effort.   Look for simple ways to incorporate short writings throughout daily lessons and longer writings over the course of weeks or math units.

Getting Started with Math Writing

Often students who have difficulty writing in math class have less difficulty telling the teacher what they think.   Capitalize on this oral strength by incorporating the think-pair-share strategy more often into math lessons as a prelude to writing.

Think-Pair-Share: Some students are reluctant to write at first and benefit from practice sharing thoughts with a partner and hearing that partner put thoughts into words.   Reluctant students get to "practice" in a small setting with a partner before speaking to the whole class.   These students can also choose to share their thoughts, their partner's thoughts, or a combination of the two.

The basic steps of Think-Pair-Share are:

Think-Write-Pair-Share:   Once students are comfortable with the Think-Pair-Share strategy, introduce the Think-Write-Pair-Share strategy.   This strategy incorporates writing into the thinking process.   As students think about the question, they also write their response to the question using a variety of techniques: webbing, words, pictures, numbers, examples.   Teachers might start with a prompt poster that students can use for reference when they don't know where to start.   Effective prompts use successful pre-writing strategies such as:

Students then share their written responses with partners during which time students might elect to edit their own written response, choosing to replace certain words with better mathematical vocabulary, or add ideas and statements from their partner's writing.   Finally the teacher selects some students to share written responses with the class.   This process encourages students to get something down on paper and allows them some editing functions through the partner pairing.   Additionally, students benefit from regular listening to classmates sharing their own writing.

Making the Connection Between Speaking and Writing

Students who work through these strategies start to make the connection that "what I think" is "what I should write" and this realization, along with posted prompts, helps reluctant writers get started on written expression of important mathematical concepts or explanations of their thoughts and problem solutions.   Partner sharing and listening to classmates read their writings encourages editing and fosters the notion that math writing isn't perfect on the first draft.   Sometimes it's just important to get some thoughts down on paper, but sometimes, as in responses to open-ended assessments, students must carefully check responses against rubric requirements.   Saving writing samples in student portfolios will allow students to see their own growth over the course of the year and this practice helps students develop confidence in their ability to meet the demands of the varied writing assignments.

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