Writing In Math

“When it comes to math and science, writing brings in more than literacy and communication advantages. The practice of writing can enhance the brain’s intake, processing, retaining, and retrieving of information. Through writing, students can increase their comfort with and success in understanding complex material, unfamiliar concepts, and subject-specific vocabulary.” Brain-based Research on Benefits of Writing.  Judy Willis, www.edutopia.org/blog/writing-executive-function-brain-research-judy-willis, July 11, 2011

Writing in math class supports students in making sense of mathematics and communicating their understanding.  Writing supports differentiation and full participation and provides the teacher with evidence of understanding.

Five W’s and an H on Writing in Math:

  • Writing is important for all students, but it is also imperative for the teacher to write to fully understand the benefits, difficulties and how to support students.
  • All math topics, problems, tasks and activities; connections between concepts and representations; accomplishments, joys, struggles;  solution processes; justifications; definitions; compare and contrast; error analysis; observations; math procedures and processes; problem posing.  Writing can be informal quick-writes or even lists. or more formal reports, guidebooks and brochures.  Writing can take the form of love letters, poems and stories.
  • On paper, computer, whiteboard.  Write in a learning log, journal, portfolio, blog, website, exit ticket, on homework. Writing can be done anywhere – in class, at home, at the library.
  • Everyday, but start small – as little as 10-15 minutes a couple of times per week.
  • Engagement, differentiation, reflection, wrestle with and organize thinking, make sense, communicate and critique, plan solution strategies, make valid arguments, use mathematical vocabulary precisely, connect concepts, metacognition, vehicle for FA, develop and expand what it means to “do mathematics”, engage in the math practices, increase confidence, increase participation, develop independence, decentralize authority, create a record of progress, enhance communication between teacher and student, unleash creativity, show growth.
  • Start small, establish a routine. Don’t grade, give feedback:  one positive “notice” and one “wonder” suggestion on each paper; be specific. Use peer/self review and editing, gallery walks, whole class reflections, choose samples to analyze with the class, write a class exemplar, share in groups and call on reps as time allows.  Make sure to allow time for revision – it is key to improving clarity and correcting misconceptions.


Written Response Items: MDTP Written Response Items have been developed and field-tested by the CSU/UC Mathematics Diagnostic Testing Project with a primary objective to help improve students’ ability to reason, think, and communicate effectively about mathematics.

MDTP Learning Modules: MDTP Learning Modules are designed to support students’ independent practice on MDTP topics. Each Module is divided into lessons, and each lesson consists of Learning Experiences: Explore, Try This! (guided examples), Watch (Instructional Videos), Making Connections and Practice. The conclusion of each lesson also contains an interactive assessment.


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