Today's common core curriculum put an emphasis on writing in math. On tests, students are not only asked to solve problems, but to explain how they did it. In class conversations discussing ideas are being prioritized. Students still hate to write in math. For the struggling learners that I work with this is especially true. They often have weak understandings of what they are doing so their explanations are weak. They struggle with the written word, so thinking through writing is not seen as doable. We have kids who have scribes and access to notes. They are especially unlikely to really think through writing. We are shooting our kids in the feet when we intercept their writing, yet we do it.
How can we incorporate writing in math for our struggling learners?
My first thought is interactive notebooks. Have the classroom notes provided on the right side of the notebook and on the left have students write, draw, and solve problems. Nonlinguistic representations, one of Marzano's key learning strategies, can be brought to bear: Ex draw the word problem out. They might need to start with actual manipulatives and act out the word problem. We still need them to write. Provide sentence frames:
- Analogies: solving two digit subtraction problems is like a(n) ____________ because ______________.
- compare/contrast: Squares are like rhombi because _______, but different because _____.
- Sequence: First you, _______. Second you, _________. Third you, _____, etc.
Ms. Neil suggests having students write their own word problems illustrating the concepts being discussed. For example write a word problem showing addition could be I had seven cookies and bought three more at the store. How many did I have altogether? This strategy works easily with many elementary students but we hesitate with older students. These students who ask, "When I ever going to use this?" benefit from having to discover it. If you are learning exponents, write problems involving compound interest. If you are learning to use a protractor they can divide a cake into even portions. If you are learning about dividing fractions you can cut partial pizzas into portions. You can solve for slope of water lines to promote the fastest movement of water through a tunnel. You could ask students to write one word problem per homework assignment and then solve the assigned problems. It might be more motivating even if it is harder to grade.
This book is an easy read. It is practical and relevant today when we need to get kids to write in math more than ever. While the target audience is elementary, I think some of the strategies scale up well. It might take a group with some creative thinkers to try and develop prompts for any particular class, but with some thought, it can be done. This is a great entry point for a reluctant writing in math teacher.