Thursday, August 30, 2007

Writing in math rocks my socks

I handed out and used the reflection journals in my Numeracy class for the first time today. Of course my first class was too fast for me and half the covers were tagged before I could even react; but I learn fast and outlawed tagging script for the rest of the classes. "Aw man, no tagging??" But they listened for the most part..

I know countless other teachers do the reflection journal, but it isn't seen as much in math. And I've never tried it before. The kids were a bit unsure what to write, and I was a bit unsure what to tell them. My prompt today was something like "write about what you learned today in class and what you feel that you still need help in". I also told them they could choose to follow my prompts, or write something else. General ideas: what are you understanding? What are you confused about? How did the class go? Is there anything you want or need to let me know? I did confirm for one girl that the writing should, indeed, be at least tangentially related to what is going on in class. She seemed to find this reasonable.

So far, I am totally into this. The last 5 minutes of class are silent, as kids process what they just learned, and think about what they still don't get. At the end of the day, I read through 3 classes worth (~60 students), in about 20 or 25 minutes, and responded to what they wrote. The immediate feedback was awesome. Most found the Bar Model method long and seemingly difficult, but they almost all conceded that it helped them to understand the problem better and make it easier. The kids who were totally confused let me know. One girl said she was proud of herself for having learned the new skill. Another told me that I talk too fast sometimes but that she thinks I'm going to be a good teacher anyway and is looking forward to the year. One boy told me his stomach hurt from lunch and that he needed to use the bathroom (he's in Numeracy for the second time - but I dig his sense of humor).

I'm going to try to commit to reading their journals every Friday at least.. I think that the more I write, the more they are likely to write to me.

I collected their math autobiographies today (only 3 or 4 kids didn't do them!) and I am looking forward to reading them later on. I'll probably post a few choice excerpts.


Jackie Ballarini said...


I am stealing this idea for my "pre-high school" math course of sophomores!! I think I may have them do this as homework on Moodle. Any ideas on this?

I'm interested to hear (read?) your reaction as the year continues. Please let us know if your opinion changes.

Dan Wekselgreene said...

I haven't actually ever seen Moodle, so I can't say. But I don't think the format matters that much as long as they and you are both able to easily express your ideas. I think the real key to making it work is committing to reading and responding to the majority of what they write - making it into a true dialogue.

I have just been reading through the math autobiographies, and I think this is one of my favorite assignments that I have ever given. The kids were all honest and more thorough than I would have predicted. Even though their writing skills aren't all that great, the ideas and feelings come through. I'll post some of the results tomorrow.

Here is the assignment I gave them, in case anyone is interested. We brainstormed their thoughts and feelings around the word math for a few minutes, and then I gave them this assignment:

Step 1: List 3 – 5 ideas from the brainstorm on the whiteboard that relate to you.

Step 2: List all the math teachers you’ve had over the years (that you can remember). Next to each teacher, write down if you liked the class or not and why.

Step 3: Describe any memories that stand out when you think back over the years. Think about both good and bad times. When were you successful? When did you have troubles? How would you describe yourself as a math student now?

Step 4: Now you’re ready. On a piece of binder paper, tell your story. Use what you wrote above to help you get started. Use good descriptions. Be honest. Make sure you fill at least ¾ of the page – the more you write, the better I will know you!

(Then I had students come up and demonstrate what 3/4 of a page looks like!)

Suma said...

Hi, thats always good to be sure and get prompted with what was learnt in the class for today...

Suma valluru