In Math Class: To Write is Right

“A picture says a thousand words” is a well-known statement and for the most part, true. Pictures can be interpreted in many ways.  Emojis, bitmojis, gifs, memes, snaps – they are all digital, pictorial expressions.  They are pictures that represent, or “say,” words.

So, if our world is saturated with pictures, then where are all the words?

That leads me to another question: are we writing less?  On the one hand, we email, text, and comment so often that it seems that we are writing more and talking/using pictures less.  But, on the other hand, we are using images so often that it seems that we are using pictures more, and writing/talking less.  It’s a little confusing!  The bottom line is this – writing skills may evolve over time, but they aren’t going away.  So, we need to practice writing in as many facets of our daily lives as possible.

As a math teacher, I do think about ways in which students can practice writing.  Students traditionally don’t think of math class as a place for writing.  However, I do believe that their perception can change and evolve if we give them the proper tools and support to practice their writing.  We all know that “showing work” is an important part of mathematics.  We expect our students to guide us through their thought processes by writing down each step they take to solve a problem.  That way, we can “see” how they are thinking.  We have also come to expect students to verbally explain their reasoning.  Whether it be through answering questions orally in class, or through other activities such as gallery walks, peer to peer activities, or peer grading.  Students really do tend to typically have some opportunities in class to express themselves verbally.

However, what about explaining their reasoning with written words?  Often times we attach to our assessment questions an extra “explain” or “explain why” or “explain your reasoning.”  What does this mean to our students?  Are these directives too vague?  Perhaps, with some more pointed and specific directives, our students can practice writing about mathematics and practice explaining their reasoning effectively.  This is great foundation work for future careers and their every day lives.  There is a high demand in both our professional and personal lives to write, especially through the following channels: emails, texts, social media posts, profiles.  Students need to be able to use words to express themselves in a variety of ways.  Since there are so many different means and mediums with which we communicate, students need to be prepared to tackle these tasks in their adult lives.  The time to start practicing is now, and what better venue than in math class.

In the near future, I will aim to follow-up to this post by explaining some specific writing strategies I have tried, and want to try.  As the school year is fast approaching, I’m looking forward to learning and growing with my students, and encouraging them to explain their thinking through the written word.

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