This year, I am working on connecting math and writing. I have struggled with how to best help students explain their mathematical thinking. This is the big challenge I have asked Michelle Jones to help me with during our coaching sessions. First, I identified areas where my students are currently writing during the math workshop. Students begin nearly every day with a small, manageable story problem. They have a routine where they identify what they know and what they need to find out and list those items before trying to find a solution. The other time students are writing is at the end of the workshop. We generally have a question where students reflect on their learning. Often the question will include a reference to their thinking such as, "In what ways did you determine importance in order to decide how to divide?" or "How did you monitor for meaning as you tackled story problems today?" We will usually reflect at the end verbally about content specifically, then I will have them write about their thinking. My problem is that I don't feel that I am doing a good enough job of knowing what the mini lesson is to help students improve their math writing. We keep trucking along, with no real improvement.
What is extending my thinking is the idea that math writing is so different than other writing we ask students to do, but what about the systems that I need to put in place to confer with students? Could I use the same systems and routines that a literacy teacher does to help individual students? I am currently doing lots of writing in my class, but I am not in touch with where students are in the writing process. What about my "high fliers?" Math writing is a place where I can really push my quick learners, but I don't have a good pulse of where they are in math writing. How do I record my conferences? I have tried many different methods and am trying to settle on one that will work for me an all my students so I can have a track record of all of our ongoing writing goals.
My challenge moving forward is to put together this conferring routine with kids. I have a conferring notebook that I am going to start utilizing. It is a very simple sheet, where I will put students who I want to confer with daily, every other day and weekly. The space if very open so I can put any kinds of notes I think are appropriate. My thinking is that I will schedule specific kids on certain days and write those conferences in my plan book to hold myself accountable. For my initial conferences, I will ask kids to share with me their writing from the beginning of workshop and ask them to share with me what they think they could do to make it better. This will help me not only assess their writing, but also assess their knowledge of what makes good math writing. I am hoping this will help me guide future mini lessons. I also am currently running invitational groups, where I ask kids to join me if they are needing a second look at the mini lesson before they move on to independent practice. I want to keep that in place, so I am going to split my time, 20 minutes or so to confer with my list of students, 20 minutes or so to continue my invitational groups. I am thinking of doing invitational groups second to encourage kids to try independent work first before they rely on me or others to get the answers. At that point, they can join me if they need it. I think there are students who avoid any struggle whatsoever.
My question moving forward is: How do I create a system for conferring that will be sustainable? I am frustrated that this is something I am still trying to figure out and when I look back at previous years, I have tried so many different methods, none of which have worked.