Monday, January 28, 2008

Reading and Writing in Math Through Journals

Every summer when I'm planning for the new year, I try to incorporate more reading and writing into my math classroom. There's many obvious reasons to do this--the TAKS, our state standardized test, is heavy on word problems that require high level reading comprehension. One of the easiest and most important to implement are journals. These are not just for the English classroom, since they require students to think, explain, and make connections to the material--all essential skills not only for testing but for higher levels of math.

You can use these as "Do Now" activities, exit slips, or short take-home assessments. If you need to provide content-area writing samples for state ELL assessment programs or student portfolios, this is a painless way to collect them. Here are some examples I've used, grouped by purpose:

Explaining how to do problems or defining vocabulary:
  1. Explain the rules we learned this week for solving equations in your own words.
  2. How do you make a table of x and y values into a function? Give at least one way.
  3. Explain the difference between a dependent and independent variable.
  4. Pick one word off the Word Wall and explain what it is (or give an example).
Explaining what they learned or are still confused about:
  1. What questions do you still have about this unit?
  2. What did you learn in Algebra this week? How can you do better next week?
Reflecting on their work ethic and behavior:
  1. Name at least one thing you need to do better in Algebra I this six weeks. Explain why.
  2. What happens if you fail Algebra this year? How many credits do you need to pass to 10th grade?
  3. What would it take to get you motivated to do your work and pass the TAKS? If you are already motivated, how do you stay that way?
  4. How did I do this week in math class? What did I do well? What do I need to improve upon?
Making connections and using higher order thinking:
  1. What's the good part about using graphing calculators for our work? What's the down side?
  2. List all the ways you use math while you're NOT at school.
  3. What do you think is the hardest thing to do in math? Why?
Adjust the length depending on your needs and time limitations. Many of these questions can be well answered in a paragraph or two, some require a bit more exploration. Use your discretion.

Be sure to discuss the topics as a whole group, especially to accommodate those who may be better at expressing themselves out loud. Then, you can encourage and guide those students at how to put their good ideas into writing. It might seem daunting, but every second you spend working on literacy is just as valuable as any content you teach.