Writing in Math class

Last week I finally broke out of the Language Arts, Social Studies world and ventured into a math class. I have been trying to talk top math teachers about the important role they play in teaching students to write in math. I received a lot of skeptical looks in return, over time the skeptical looks turned to more of a patronizing nod. That is until we began to administer benchmark math assessments to our fifth grade that included two multi-step problems requiring written explanations. As a team we sat down to score the explanations and it became very obvious that although our students had made a lot of progress in their writing in general, they did not know how to write a clear, consice math explanation. These explanations were filled with opinions, vague language, and even some attempts at humor (math teachers do not really appreciate math humor on an assessment!). After the last scoring session one brave math teacher took me up on my weekly offer to come into math class and talk about how to write in math.

I knew I had one chance to show the teachers how important this was and it really worked. I did a mini-lesson showing the students a recipe written as a recipe and the same recipe written as a narrative, with very literary, discriptive language. They could see right away why math writing needs to look more like the recipe. Give the reader what they need to know, the process used to solve the problem, nothing more, nothing less.

After a great discussion the students got to work practicing and giving each other feedback. Suddenly I felt right at home in a math class, we were talking the talk that I am so familiar with.

By the time I made it back to my office that afternoon I had three more e-mails from other math teachers wanting to set up writing lessons. Kids need to know that writing is part of understanding in every content area…we are now on our way at our middle school.

Phys. ed. may be next……