Friday, October 19, 2012

Writing and reflection

One of the goals that I set for myself this year was to make writing a more regular part of my class, rather than the add-on journal entries I've had students write the past few years. Kids had been resistant to these (a few refused to do them at all) and I felt like I wasn't seeing much improvement as the year went on. Those who were reflective and took the assignments seriously got something out of it, but lots of kids did a crappy job, took a 1/3 or 2/3 score and moved on with their lives.

So this year, I started the first real unit (after reviewing last year's Algebra 1A material) with worksheets that kids started on in class and that had more problems and a reflection piece at the end for them to complete at home. Here's one (adapted very closely from CME Project Algebra):

Ch. 7 Day 1 12-13

I used the same writing prompt each day:

How well did you understand today’s lesson? Use one or more of the following prompts to help you answer this question (write at least a few sentences, include at least one example).

a. One thing that I understand really well from this lesson is…
b. One thing that I didn’t understand at first from this lesson, but now do understand is...
c. One thing that is still confusing to me from this lesson is...
d. Something that I’m wondering about that is related to this lesson is…

Some positives: 
  • Every kid is responding to these. Maybe because it's the last question on the assignment and they've already put in all the rest of the work, or because it is an almost daily component of their work and thus normalized, but I'm having much less resistance to writing this year.
  • I feel like I'm getting a better understanding of kids' misconceptions and questions. Yes, there are some who always say "I understand everything. Here's a trivial example." But lots of kids are taking the time to write about a problem type they don't understand or a question they have about the topic that wasn't addressed in class. 
Things that still need to be worked out:
  • Getting kids to use the example as evidence for what they are saying in words. I want the response to be a coherent piece of writing with the math embedded in the words, not as an add-on because it's a requirement to include an example. 
  • Having kids go deeper in their explanations, rather than just stating a procedure they used (or not explaining what they did at all). I want them to explain why their approach worked (if they're using prompts a and b) or where they got stuck (for prompt c). I would also like them to write more. I think that if I require at least a paragraph minimum, fewer kids (ahem, boys) would be tempted to just pick the easiest example from the notes and try to regurgitate it back to me in the fewest number of words possible.
Here's one of the better ones from last week because this student actually explained their example in detail. Again, I'd like them to go a bit deeper into the "why," but at this point in the year, I'll take it.

So, a few things that I know I need to do to promote better writing:
  • Give specific feedback. I've been saying things like, "needs to be longer" or "explain your example," but I should really talk to kids and tell them more specifically what I want them to change.
  • Show examples of strong math writing and have kids point out what the person has done well, in addition to things that they can still improve on. 
  • Tell kids why it is that I'm having them do math writing. Perhaps it would be helpful to (in general terms) talk about the research on metacognition and learning. 
  • Change up the writing prompts and have more writing responses to actual math problems. I just had kids do an investigation in class with the homework assignment being a writeup of the problem, their process, and solution, if any. Once I grade these, I will have a better sense of where they are at with their writing about math and where to go from here.
Any other suggestions??

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