How teachers benefit from students writing in math class

In a recent post, “Why students should be writing in math class,” I shared how writing in math class supports students’ learning. When students are provided opportunities to write, they use higher-order thinking skills to create mathematical explanations that come from their own ideas.

But students are not the only ones who benefit from writing in math class. Teachers benefit as well. Students’ writing provides teachers with a peek into how students think, better equipping them to know their students and make instructional decisions about how to meet the needs of both the entire class and individual students.

What assessment purposes can writing serve?

Teachers can use writing to (From Writing in Math Class by Marilyn Burns):

  • Evaluate general effectiveness of their instructional goals.
  • Learn about individual students' understanding and skills.
  • Communicate with parents about what students are learning and the progress they are making.

Below are some student work samples from an individual writing assessment titled, What I Know About Percents (So Far). The teacher told the students that their writing would help her to learn what they understood and help her plan more effectively.

Under which assessment purpose do you think each of the student work samples above belongs?

I have the student writing assessment. Now what?

In her online article, Math Out Loud!, Robyn Silbey provides questions that teachers can ask themselves as they review students’ writing in math class. Here are some of my favorites:

  • What concepts do most students understand fully? These concepts can be used as springboards to new knowledge and require no further class time.
  • How extensively do they use appropriate math terminology? Math terminology helps students communicate clearly about their solutions and thought processes. The written use of these terms will be a natural outgrowth.
  • What other patterns do I see in the students´ papers? Identify common errors in students´ work. Think about how your instruction should address those misconceptions.
  • Based on the students´ papers, how should I adjust instruction tomorrow? Use the reflection questions to guide your future lessons in math and writing.

Writing in math class is a win-win for both teachers and students. Students feel that writing leads to new ideas, helps them to think and to communicate. Teachers can use writing in math class to determine the effectiveness of lessons and to make instructional decisions to meet students’ needs.

I'd love to hear stories about how writing has impacted the learning in your mathematics classroom!