Thursday, January 21, 2016

Writing in math :)

This year, the 4th grade math team has focused on writing in math due to data showing that the students need additional help and work in this area of focus. Being that I’m a new teacher in general, I did not have the background to see the strengths and weaknesses of students in regards to writing in math.

For my class, I have tried to connect the dots for students between writing in literacy and writing in math. Obviously, the two are very different, but there can be some similarities, as well. This year in literacy, we have talked a lot about paragraphs, and including a topic sentence. We have transferred this knowledge to math, in that when we write in math, they can include a topic sentence, but it will be rather restating the question in their answer, with a clear, grammatically correct, proper punctuation and capitalization sentence. Additionally, we have come up with the following guidelines for our math writing:

1.       Explain our thinking
2.      Use math vocabulary
3.      Show your work by using symbols, numbers, graphs, and words
4.      Shows sequence
5.      Use because
6.      Clearly states your answer

In the beginning of the year, my class didn’t do much of the above, so it has been a work in progress. We started out small, and have worked up to harder questions. Additionally, we spent some time talking and creating a class anchor chart about math vocabulary and how that helps our math writing. Therefore, we started slow for our math writing. At the beginning of the year, the 4th grade team gave a benchmark writing test on information they knew, and it was pretty much a disaster. This told us that we had to slow way down, go back and pretty much teach the basics of math writing.

After talking to Caitlin, she had the idea to start off basic with a problem such as, “If you had to be addition, multiplication, division, or subtraction, which would you be and why?” This enabled them to write about math, without feeling they are writing about math. After this, we created our math vocabulary anchor charts and the “how-to” for math writing. After this, I have tried to find problems in which they have to use critical thinking, with a variety of math involved (so usually a word problem), and then they have to come up with an answer and explain themselves, or whatever the problem asks them to do. I try to do one every week or so, so that they are constantly writing and so it doesn’t feel like a big ordeal when we math write.

One thing that worked really well is something we have done the last two weeks. Using their 2nd ANET math test, we took the extended response answers, and have redone the actual problems on paper. I reprinted the question, gave it to them to answer again (they forgot that they’ve already done the problem) and told them to use their very best on this. They completed it, then I gave them their answer that they completed on ANET. I had them look at the two answers they gave, and then had them write which one was better and why, and how they could have made each answer better. They then got with partners and shared their writing and received feedback. They said this was helpful in that they can see what a good answer is supposed to look like, and also, see how others answered the question so that they could get ideas for the future.

This brings me to what we are going to work on the next month or so. I found that they kids did better on the problem from ANET when it was on paper, so I asked them what we could do in the future to help them on math problems when having to do it on the computer. They said it would be helpful to do more problems on the computer, rather than in their notebooks because it will be more similar to the test. Because of this, for the next extended response question, I’m going to have them do it on the computer, then compare it to their first response. This is a challenge because as expected, and as they said, figuring math problems on paper then transferring it to a computer is difficult. Additionally, it is difficult knowing how to teach them what to transfer regarding their work, and what is not necessary to transfer. 


  1. I love that you had the kids compare their new answers against their firsts after further instruction. I don't think it is a matter of ANET being too hard, more so proof that if kids are given the tools on how to think, they can master anything.

  2. I think it speaks to your teaching that they could identify the difference in their thinking when on paper vs. computer. Also, the fact that they have ideas on how to help themselves as learners is great!
    The math writing that you are doing in your classroom and responsiveness to what students need sounds fantastic-I want to stop by to check it out (if that's o.k.)!

  3. It sounds like you are being so thoughtful about your math writing instruction! Having kids compare and contrast their answers while identifying what makes great math writing is such a wonderful strategy to use. Not only are you teaching students how mathematicians write, but you are also teaching them to be reflective thinkers. Yay! Keep up the amazing work!

  4. Chelsea,

    The suggestion that Caitlin gave you reminded me of some thinking I did about math writing at the beginning of the year, but never followed up on. The struggle for me sometimes is defining the purpose for math writing. I received a handout from Michelle that has Mathography Prompts, similar to the one you wrote about in your post: "When you were in first, second, or third grade, what did you like about math and why?" "In what ways are adding and subtracting important?" I think that I get 'stuck' in the idea that it always has to be writing as defined by ANET or PARCC, but we would certainly be doing our students a service if we opened it up to topics that are more engaging.

    Thanks for your thoughtful post!

  5. I have the same issues with the ANET. The kids are so great at solving the constructed responses on paper tests, but I found that so many of them bombed the questions on the ANET. I agree that it would help to have them solve everyday problems on the Chromebooks instead... Thanks for your post!!