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.




Author: DOC Talk Teach

Year 6 teacher. Head of Teaching and Learning in a London primary.

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