Making Math Meaning Through Writing

Yesterday I was able to dive deeper in my summer reading.  I’ve been reading David Sousa’s book on how the brain learns mathematics.  I’m finding the chapter related to making meaning interesting.  David says that there are basically two questions that determine whether an item in the memory is saved or deleted.

Does this make sense?

Does it have meaning?

I believe students ask these questions on a daily basis. Some of the asking is mumbled under their breath, while other students will down-right ask the teacher.  I find myself asking these questions as I sit in professional development sessions.  Students want to know how this new learning applies to their life.  Students are better able to retain what they’re learning when it makes sense and can be connected to past experiences.  Those past experiences can develop into having meaning for students.  What’s also interesting is that experiences that have an emotional component present have meaning for students. Past experiences that are clear in my memory are often related to some type of emotional component. I feel like this is similar with students.  Those experiences are more likely to be stored in long-term memory.

This chapter in particular emphasizes the need to spend more time creating opportunities for students to develop meaning.  Without meaning, students often use formulas to compute numbers.  Their confidence falls on the formula and the student doesn’t necessarily understand the concept. Students eventually become so skilled at computing numbers that they find answers without thinking of the context. Most teachers have had conversations with students about their answers and if they make numerical sense?  In those cases students understanding the procedural aspect (formula) but it’s not in relation to the context (meaning).  In order to create meaning, students need time to connect and personalize the content.  In addition, they need time to explore, reflect and practice.  Writing in math class is one way for students to practice and create meaning.

I’ve been a long time advocate for using writing in math class.  My students in 2-5th grade have used math journals in the past.  They reflect on their past performance and set goals moving forward.  Writing in math class gives students time to process information.  That processing can lead to personal meaning.  Writing in math class can take many different forms. I believe interactive notebooks and foldables can also provide opportunities for student to process and make meaning.  By writing, students are required to organize their thoughts and find sense and meaning in their learning. Using math notebooks/journals can assist in giving students a way to also communicate their current understanding of the material.  Having a component where the teacher responds to the students’ writing can also provide another opportunity for feedback. Regularly writing in math class can also provide students with an outlet to create a record that they can look back at to review their growth.  Something that I need to keep in mind is that the math writing doesn’t have to be on paper.  Writing through a math blog or in some other digital format can also play a role in making meaning.

How do you use writing in math class?

Author: Matt Coaty

I've taught elementary students for the past 14 years. I enjoy reading educational research and learning from my PLN. Words on this blog are my own.

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