Wait. What? Writing in maths?

Maybe some of you, like me, had this reaction when you first heard about journal writing in mathematics. How can I do that? They struggle with the maths itself let alone writing about it. These thoughts screamed across my head 5 years ago when I started my journey using journals and I continue to hear these when supporting colleagues new to the approach. And, to be completely honest, it’s a good question. What is the point?

The Point(s)

Gemma Meharg in her blog post ‘4 reasons why your maths students should be journaling’ https://mathsnoproblem.com/4-reasons-why-maths-students-should-be-journaling/ outlined the main benefits of a maths journal: student engagement, student self assessment, develop higher level thinking skills and formative assessment for teachers. Adding to this I would specifically like to draw attention to the positve benefits of writing in mathematics. If you’re anything like me you may find writing difficult. I sometimes sit and redraft a 2 or 3 sentence email multiple times. During my studies, sometimes it only came to me when essay writing that I didn’t have a secure understanding of the concept I was writing about, and I would hit the books again. My point being that writing to convey a message or to communicate understanding takes organisation, consolidation and clarity of thought (with a bit of reflection in there too). I would love to develop these skills in my students.

The Backlash

Now, the next backlash my brain provided me 5 years ago was: well that all sounds brilliant, but it will take too much time and maths is maths and English is English. Yes and No. Developing writing in skills in mathematics will take on a similar process to your approach in English. Analysing good (and bad) examples, creating a toolkit of skills, shared writing led by the teacher, drafting, feedback, reflection. – the writing cycle. The great Ban Har once said, ‘you have to waste time to save time’. Maybe this process isn’t a waste but rather an investment in deepening students’ understanding. Okay but what about the kids that can’t write? Sentence stems. Teacher modelling. Paired journals. Verbal reasoning being scribed. Yeah but when do I fit in the lesson? On an average day we may spend 10 – 15 minutes on a journal task after exploring the ‘In Focus’ problem (often now, without prompting, the children will often go back and add to their journals after completing their workbooks).

The Journal Task

Initially, all our journal tasks were very similar. We would slightly alter the ‘In Focus’ problem changing the numbers (careful not to change the underlying maths concept) or the ‘nouns’ (sweets to coins, fish to birds). These journals came with a framework; the inclusions of multiple methods and an explanation of at least one (often to a friend who is absent or in another class). However, the approach to journaling evolved after a recent Lesson Study which focused on ‘challenge for all’, where some of our teachers had the privilege to work collaboratively with Dr Yeap Ban Har acting as ‘koshi’ or ‘knowledgeable other’. From this research, and the support of MNP accredited schools days, we have begun to explore 4 different types of journaling. Which we now call DICE journaling.

Descriptive, where students explain the different ways to answer a problem.

Investigative, where students may be required to explore in a method will always work.

Creative, where students create their own problem for a friend to answer.

Explorative, where students are asked to make a judgement on method efficiency or preference.

Finally, after recently reading ‘Mathematical Mindsets’ by Jo Boaler – I’ve adopted the use of reflection questions in class. These are still a work in progress but I have found them useful for prompts to spark some interest taking discussions.

Would love to hear how you have been using journaling, feel free to magpie any ideas or questions from here! Hope this was of use.

🖖🏼

Cheers,

Dave

The Process of Growth

Under the leadership of Jeremy Hannay our school has shifted away from ‘traditional’ school philosophies of observation and high stakes to one that promotes support, growth and development of all staff. For example ‘Performance Management’ meetings have been replaced with an ‘Annual Learning Plan’ where teachers are paired up with a member of SLT to develop two/three lines of enquiry to focus on for that year. A sample question may be: ‘What reading strategies can be implemented to support emerging readings in KS1?’ or ‘To what extent does writing in mathematics support learners and, considering the law of diminishing returns, how much time of the lesson should be dedicated to this?’ Under this approach I have witnessed teacher autonomy, confidence and well-being increase dramatically.

Yes, teaching is a hard job, we all knew that when we went in (didn’t we?), but these conditions have allowed teachers to flourish as professionals, collaborators and individuals. My point is that, without the requisite conditions it would have been extremely hard for our SLT to develop an approach to journal writing, reading or (hopefully shortly) Oracy effectively. These conditions are intentional, they are an investment and they have formed the foundation of our school. As we expect our pupils to, teachers are encouraged to collaborate, research, explore, make mistakes, reflect and go again.

Therefore, after a year of whole school dialogue and action research a framework for writing in mathematics is beginning to emerge in our school. It has been, and will continue to be, an ongoing process. We are in no way a perfect example, but with each day I can feel us taking a step closer and its liberating to know that if we fall there are so many dedicated people to pick you up, dust you off and guide you back to the path.

With that said – here are a series of journal tasks from our Year 6’s unit on fractions. I love this part of the lesson and it’s always good to here the whispers of ‘Yes!’ from the pupils when it’s time to journal.

Would love to see how your school has been journaling.

Cheers!

Maths Journals

For the last 4 years our school has adopted a Singaporean approach to teaching mathematics which is centred on student collaborative exploration when problem solving.  Since embracing this approach we have seen our students’ mathematical reasoning and understanding flourish tremendously. Our results in both KS1 and KS2 being consistently above national expectations with over 40% of our students being considered ‘greater depth’ by the end of Year 6.

A key element to this pedagogical approach is the concept of ‘maths journaling’. After an initial ‘anchor’ problem, students are required to complete a journal task based upon the mathematical concept that is the focus of the lesson. We often alter the anchor problem slightly allowing students the opportunity to record their thinking, which reinforces learning but also acts as a way for children to think metacognitively about their learning. This is a valuable tool for formative assessment as well as an opportunity for the teacher to see the students ‘thinking’.

When first exploring maths journaling we encouraged a framework for pupils; including multiple methods in their journal with an explanation of at least one (often to a friend who is absent or in another class). However, our approach to journaling is beginning to evolve after our recent Lesson Study which focused on ‘challenge for all’, where some of our teachers had the privilege to work collaboratively with Dr Yeap Ban Har, a leading expert in Singapore maths. From this research we have begun to explore 4 different types of journaling: descriptive, where students explain the different ways to answer a problem; explorative, where students are asked to make a judgement on method efficiency or preference; investigative, where students may be required to explore in a method will always work; creative, where students create their own problem for a friend to answer.

This has, and continues to be, an ongoing journey of professional collaboration, dialogue and reflection. We teachers work together to generate journal problems and share reflections with each other, as we would expect our students to do.