As the school year began, my students and I talked about how we were going to be doing things in math class a bit differently from other math classes that they have taken before. We talked about how we were going to be reading and writing every day in class. Students looked at me puzzled because they associated reading and writing with English Language Arts, social studies, or science classes. Many students expressed that they thought math was just for solving problems. Well as many of us know math has become more real-world and the aspects of reading and writing have become an important part of becoming a better mathematician. Many of my students struggle with reading, but are successful in math class when it comes to basic problem solving without the words. So, our TRC research plan was to prompt our students to read and write every day.
Writing proved to be more of a challenge for my students. The first time we wrote in class was a learning log about what they knew about proportional relationships. The goal was to get students to write without a lot of prompting. After completing the first learning log, it became essential that I modeled and created a learning log together with my classes. When we got to the next learning log entry in our lessons, my students and I created it together on the board and then students wrote the log entry in their notes. As time progressed, students were able to write learning logs with their teams without teacher modeling.
Another form of writing that I have added to my instruction is weekly reflections in which my students answer the following three questions: What mathematical connections did you make last week? What did you understand better last week? What haven’t you learned yet? Matt Rector, a member of our Literacy Cubed research team came up with these questions to ask our students. The first week that we did the reflections, my students looked at me like I was crazy. We talked about each question and what mathematical connections meant. Students were given about ten minutes to write down their thoughts. They were encouraged to write with sentences, although I knew that from many students, I would get one-word responses. As predicted, students wrote one-word responses to the questions. Back to the drawing board I went with my research teammates that week and they suggested that we use sentence frames.
The next week came and I formulated sentence frames for my students to use to help guide them in writing reflections. The first sentence was, “I connected _____________ with ____________ because ________, next I understood __________ better because _________, and I am still not sure about __________. Even though sentence frames were provided, the kids still saw the questions to help them correlate the question to the sentence frame. Responses were better during this week of reflections because students wrote a bit more than one-word responses, but their sentences were not complete thoughts. We used sentence frames for the next couple of weeks, then I realized we needed to add another step to our weekly reflections.
The next step that I took for the reflections was that students were going to have some think time about their response before picking up a pencil to write. Students were presented with each of the three questions and the sentence frames. After discussing the questions as a group, students had one minute to think to themselves about how they wanted to respond to their reflection. Then students had about four minutes to discuss each question within their team, giving each person a chance to respond. Once students had time to think to themselves and to collaborate with their team, it was their time to write for the next five minutes. Since students had this think time, they were able to go on and write better sentences with original, complete thoughts.
The weekly reflections are making positive impacts in the class for my students and for me as the teacher. Students are reflecting on them as a math student, and pursuing writing to help them explain what they understand and what they do not understand. The writing has helped me as a teacher because my students are more likely to write and tell me what they need help with, since many students are not apt to speak up about needing extra help.
Below are some examples of their weekly reflections:
My next step in this TRC research project is to continue working with students writing reflections and getting their feedback. Over the next couple of months, I will work with my students to answer these questions without the sentence frames and encourage them to use mathematical vocabulary in their responses.