One of my primary classes just finished up a math pre-assessment. One of the questions on this assessment asked students to explain their mathematical reasoning. Specifically, they were given a prompt, a student example, and then asked to explain in their own words what happened. Students had a lot of questions about this problem. Since it was a pre-assessment, I basically kept quiet and asked them to persevere. Some did, others didn’t.

A few students dropped their faces when they saw their pre-assessment results. Many, and I mean over half of the kids didn’t meet the expectations on the written response. Instead of putting together sentences, the majority of students created number models and that was that. Some students even wrote that the character was wrong and didn’t explain anything further. I was a bit disappointed, but no worries though – this is a pre-assessment. The actual assessment won’t happen for another couple weeks.

I noticed that I needed to look more closely at how to address the math writing issue. I also needed to clarify the expectations for written responses. This was new territory for kids. Most students are able to tell me (with prodding) their thinking and how it relates to the problem solving process. It’s a different story when it comes to writing it down. In the next few week I want to ensure that students are explaining their mathematical thinking clearly and in a way that answers the question.

So this Wednesday students were asked to start looking for specific details in their writing. We began by having the entire class analyze one math response from another “student” from a couple years ago (ok … maybe I created this). Students went into teams and analyzed the exemplar and looked for key components in the response. Students looked for an answer statement, math vocabulary and important numbers. They then coded the response with circles, rectangles and underlining. The student teams explained to the class what they thought qualified as an answer statement. This was a great discussion as students came to a consensus to what qualifies as a statement that answers the question. Students also discussed the numbers that were important and the math vocabulary that was used.

Later in the day students answered a similar prompt and then switched papers with a peer. The other student coded the paper and then the pairs discussed what they wrote and why.

The class will be meeting next week to review more examples. Afterwards we plan on responding to a different math prompt and code our own writing. I’m looking forward to seeing how this emphasis on mathematical writing transfers throughout the year.