Thursday, May 31, 2018

More Writing in Math

By: Rachel Barry

In an earlier blog post, I shared my want to learn more about my students through writing.  I challenged myself to create more opportunities to allow my students to express themselves through writing.  After talking to various teachers (of various subjects, I might add), I decided to start journaling with my students.  I will be honest, a majority of my ideas for implementation were stole from US History teacher Saarah Mohammed.

The Process
Starting in Quarter 4, a prompt was posted on Schoology each Friday for students to reflect and respond to.  Students were given approximately 10 minutes to write, though when needed, students could take more time.  I started with prompts that I was curious about "Without monetary constraints, where in the world would you travel to?  Why do you want to travel there, and who would you take with you?"  Then, by Saarah's recommendation, I started using next years' Common App writing prompts as inspiration.   For example, I adapted "Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others." to "What is your proudest accomplishment?"  

The Effect
I was amazed at how open my students were in sharing some personal stories and feelings, and I loved the students reactions when they saw that the day's agenda included a journal.  I saw my students in a new light, as some who normally struggle in math were thriving in the world of writing, while others were more frustrated that they couldn't just get right to simplifying complex numbers.  

I learned so much.  I learned about a student who have overcome depression and suicidal thoughts, another who want to study abroad because they have never left Des Plaines or Elk Grove Village, a student who can't wait the fall to be able to go to their farm and help out with the harvest, one who shared being asexual and wants to educate others, a student who is working hard on his Eagle Scout project, another who is struggling to care for her younger sister when the parents are rarely in the picture, and so many students excited about their school activities.  I am eternally grateful for my students' willingness to share their stories with me, as I am forever changed by these relationships that I have built.

Next Steps
Now that I have opened this can of worms, I can't close it.  I know that I will start the year with my students journaling and continue the process throughout.  Starting earlier and building this process, I hope to also incorporate some academic self-reflection questions, such as "What grade have you earned?" (stolen from Mark Heintz), "How can you use the feedback from _ assignment/assessment to improve your learning?", or "Now that you have achieved your goal, what is your new goal?"  My goal is to build more metacognition skills as well as break down the barrier that we can only learn math in a mathematics class.

One of the things that surprised me the most was that the students who forgot their iPads and wrote their journals on paper tended to write more.  However, I wasn't able to keep a conversation going, as I did with other students in the comments section on Schoology.  I have debated the idea of each student having their own journal, though logistically this could be difficult, as I typically read these journals at home over the weekend.  If anyone has any insight into trying some of these methods, I would greatly appreciate any imput!

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