Cassidy Earle’s Contribution

Practical Writing in the Mathematics Classroom

By Cassidy Earle

Frequent writing in the mathematics classroom reveals deeper insights
into student thinking than other methods of formative assessments. I am a
sixth-grade math teacher, and I have found that using writing in the math
classroom has shown me student misunderstandings that class discussions or
quizzes did not reveal. Frequent writing also opens the door to getting to know
my students on a more personal and academic level. It wasn’t until I started
having my students write several times a week, that I was truly able to see
these benefits.
One strategy I implemented into my classroom is a writing reflection after each
summative assessment. When I first started doing these reflections, students would write one or
two sentences. They would mostly say something along the lines of “I believe I did good on the
test, because I studied.” While this sounds good, I knew it certainly was not true based on the
results of their scores. In order to get students to open up in their reflections, I had to first have a
clear conversation saying I was looking for honesty more than anything else. Middle schoolers
are typically pretty honest when they do not feel they will have negative consequences. I want to
give students a time and place to confide in me about their experiences in my classroom, but I
also want to teach my students metacognitive strategies in respect to their own mathematical
thinking through personal reflections and justifications describing their work. I also have
experienced telling my students they can be honest with me is when the effective writing begins.
Through the post-assessment reflections, I learned about students who have test anxiety I
never knew about. I read reflections about students who have a hard time studying, because their
parents work late and they are the only ones at home. I found there are students who are studying
and working hard, but it is not translating onto assessments. I discovered students who had
trouble paying attention because of certain classmates at their tables. There were students who
were afraid to ask questions in class, and let me know this through their writing. I learned

occasionally students did not study for my test, because they had three other tests on the same
day. Without giving students time to reflect, I would have never discovered many specific details
about my students.
I also encouraged students to talk about specific math skills they felt confident with and
other skills they thought were difficult. I found that the skills students said were most difficult
matched the most missed questions on assessments as well. I know I need to continue teaching
these skills based on a combination of student frustration in their writing and their scores on the
tests. I want my students to be aware of their level of understanding about our standards, and I
was encouraged to see they could articulate what they did well and what they needed to work on.
I am able to use the reflections going forward in individual student-teacher conferencing to
create student goals for the next unit. The reflections provide a great starting point in goal setting
and individual conversations I have with students.
Another type of writing I use in my classroom requires students to determine and prove if
statements about the content are “sometimes, always, or never true.” Students must explain their
reasoning about the statements with words and sometimes visuals. These statements require a
higher order level of thinking, because students must think about many possible situations that
could change the outcome of the statement. A well-written explanation shows a deep content
mastery that a multiple-choice question or whole group class discussion does not reveal. I use
these statements as a lesson closure and formative assessment I can review before class the next
day. I am also able to group students for remediation or enrichment based on their explanations
revealing their understanding about the given statements. Another type of question I like to
include on this type of closure activity is about applying the mathematics we are learning in class
to everyday life. Sometimes I print these questions on half-sheets of paper ahead of class, but
other times I pass out sticky notes or index cards. The writing does not have to be formal, but I
have found I get more detailed responses when I print the questions or statements for students
ahead of time, rather than having them write it themselves.
There are still some students that only write one or two sentences, and do not open up. I
have other students that only show me their calculations, but do not use words to describe their
thinking. One strategy I use for these students is to have them complete an extra step, since they
did not explain their thinking. I will either write questions on their response asking them how
they got their answers, or I will pull them aside before class and ask them to explain their

thinking to me. For most students, they will write a more detailed response the next time, in
order to not have to complete an extra step individually. However, the number of students that
have bought into the writing process, far outnumber the students who resist it. The more you
have students write, the better their writing will be. As obvious as this sounds, I have seen it
first-hand this year. The first time I had students write a paragraph about their mathematical
thinking, there was a lot of grumbling about how this was math not language arts, and I barely
got three sentences from most of them. However, as it became a norm in my classroom, I found
more success. I have discovered that incorporating writing into the content areas does not take
away time from teaching the standards, and it does not take long periods of time to plan. It is a
natural way to have students practice putting their thinking about math on paper and as the
teacher, I am able to learn more about how to help my students than even before.

Summative Assessment Reflection

Examples: The prompt stated, “How did you feel about the test? What skills did you find
difficult? What skills did you feel comfortable with? How did you prepare? How could you have
better prepared? Is there anything else you want me to know?”

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