Two years ago, I transitioned from special education to general education. One of my main goals was to not just shove content and procedures down their throats, but to help them truly understand math. Math Journals were one of the first things that I implemented to help accomplish this goal. After two years of tweaking, revamping, and organizing the Math Journal process, I am pleased to say that my students have flourished in their ability to not only complete mathematical concepts, but explain and truly understand what they are doing. Want to know how I believe it has benefited my students?
1. Math Journals require students to dive deep.
Do you know how many kids just follow a list of steps that you teach them without knowing why? I was always so surprised to hear students’ responses when I would ask them why they were putting a zero placeholder when they were multiplying. They honestly didn’t know. They were just doing what they were told. While that might be ok on standardized testing, I wanted my students to be able to do more than just pass a test. I wanted them to dive deep and discover why we put that darn zero there.
2. Math Journals serve as a resource for later.
One reason that I LOVE about using Math Journals is that I now have the ultimate way of requiring independence in my classroom. At our school, we use Accelerated Math and IXL to continually review skills throughout the year. If a student comes to me in January to ask about a skill that we covered in September, I can send them to their journal. Typically, once they refer to their journal entry, they are quickly reminded of the steps or process, and are able to continue the problem on their own. I seriously love watching them flip through old entries and see the look on their faces when they are thinking, “Duh! How did I forget that?!”
3. Math Journals reinforce comprehension and writing skills.
I love the first time that I ask students to compare and contrast adding whole numbers and adding decimals. They are instantly saying, “Comparing and contrasting is for reading!” (They do this to me in science and social studies too!) My response is usually something like this, “Actually, comparing and contrasting are just real life skills. Don’t you ever compare yourself to another student? Or Justin Bieber and One Direction?” Over time, students are easily able to compare and contrast, write how-tos, or explain the sequence of mathematical procedures.
4. Math Journals are naturally differentiated.
Although there are requirements for my students when working on their Math Journals, the process is also just naturally differentiated. They are always able to reference their math notes, seek help from classmates, ask the teacher, or have things read aloud to them. They are able to answer the prompt in only words, only illustrations, or a combination of both. My students have complete freedom to answer the prompt in whatever mode works for them. By giving this freedom, it allows my students to each work at their own level and learning style, and receive help as needed throughout the process.
5. Math Journals allow teachers to easily assess understanding.
After reading (or let’s be honest, skimming) a response from a student, you can EASILY tell their mathematical abilities. With a quick glance, you can also tell who truly understands the concept that you are covering. After all, teaching and explaining a concept is one of the best ways to demonstrate your knowledge. If they don’t know or understand a concept well enough to write about it, it requires them to seek help, or gives you the opportunity to pull a small group and reteach!
6. Math Journals don’t feel like math!
We all have “that” kid, who just HATES math. Well, this doesn’t feel like math. It could play to other strengths that they have in language arts. On the flipside, we all have those students who EXCEL at mathematics, but dread writing. I have never had a kid who can’t complete these Math Journals, and this is my theory: Regardless of their strengths, they have enough to get these thoughts on paper. Maybe they are phenomenal writers, but poor in math. That’s ok! They have the writing skills to carry them through. Maybe there are terrible writers, but kick butt in math. Again, that’s ok! They have the math knowledge to be able to outshine their writing weaknesses. At the end of the day, although this incorporates math and writing, I don’t think it feels like either!