Another benefit to adding math journaling to your routine is that instructional time is tight! I often have to steal some minutes from my writing time to finish my reading or math groups. I can feel confident that my students have engaged in lots of quality writing in their math journals. We just have to integrate subjects in order to fit it all in.
Finally, the CCSS for mathematical practice require students to draw models and explain their thinking. We need to be practicing this!
Let me give you a breakdown of how I teach math journaling in five days. I use a scaffolded approach.
I go back and reread my answer to make sure it makes sense and that I used proper spelling and grammar. I display my rubric and check my work using the guidelines. I make adjustments to my answer.
This is key: I do NOT ask for any input from the students. Yup, you read that correctly. This actually makes my students uncomfortable because they are so used to leading and driving class discussions. Many students will put their hand up in the air to try and offer suggestions or answers. I do not call on them. Trust me- this is not the norm in my class. But I have discovered that many students NEED to see me do a journal prompt. They can't be distracted with having to write or come up with answers. Students have trouble listening when their hand is in the air or when they are trying to form a response in their head. They just need to listen to me think through the problem. I know this is not engaging, but it has made a huge difference in my students' understanding of math journal expectations.
To spice it up, at the end of the lesson, have students tell their partner some things that they noticed you did while writing about math. You could make a list or an anchor chart if you have time.
I still display the prompt on the board, but I ask students for input. What should we do first? What do you think are key words? What are we being asked to do? What operation do we need to use? What kind of drawing would help? What kind of math vocabulary can we use? I still draw the picture and write the paragraph, but I do it with their input. I guide them. I strongly encourage them to write the answer just like mine. They are practicing the writing, but not having to come up with the answer on their own. Plus, they will have a sample in their notebooks or a journal prompt done to your standards. They can refer to it later when they are journaling independently.
After we write, we get the rubric out. (I have all my students keep one in their notebook for simple reference.) We grade our response together and then make adjustments to meet the expectations. Don't skip this part! Students need to understand how they will be assessed. They need to understand the expectations and practice going back to revise. I like to close with a quick pair share. What steps do mathematicians take when writing about their thinking?
At first, I grade every student's journal prompts at the end of the week. This is not easy! I use the same rubric that the kids have. I like to write them some little notes too. We are having a mathematical conversation! After a couple of weeks, I have a list of students who are strong math writers, some who are close and some who are still struggling. I will no longer grade every person's prompts every week. I just don't have time for that! Those who are doing well, may only have one prompt per month graded. Those who are approaching may have two prompts a month graded. My strugglers will practice more in guided math groups until they are ready. I give them very regular feedback.
This five day procedure has been very successful in my classroom. Even my lowest writers are doing a fair job. They have room to improve, but their responses don't bring me to tears anymore!
I would love to hear any tips or success stories you have when it comes to teaching your students to write about their mathematical thinking.