Six steps to bring math journaling into the classroom

Are you starting math journals in your elementary classroom? Read about six easy ways to use journal entries  during the school day!
Have you done math journaling in your classroom? This is my first year that I am pushing for math journaling in my classroom. Writing about math is strange and foreign territory to most children- it can require an immense amount of modeling for students to grasp it.

In this post, I will explain what I believe are the biggest necessities to make arch journaling a success in your classroom! 

1. Model, model, model!
Think about first-graders who are in the beginning stages of writing... they have sentence starters to help them create sentences the first times. Even students that are not in the beginning of writing may initially struggle with math journaling. Students need to feel safe and confident in the beginning of math journaling.
Plenty of teacher thinking-aloud and modeling lead to this. Teachers need to model their thinking and how to write it down. The kids are NOT going to produce elaborate responses for a while, math journaling comes with time! Be patient with the students and clear with expectations, eventually they will pick it up and become math journal experts!

For my initial lesson to introduce math journaling, I explain how this year that we will be writing in our math journals just like any other journals in a different subject. I remind students that our brains work in unique ways, everyone has their own thoughts, opinions, and ways to solve problems. Math journaling allows us to see how they think so that problems in the future are easier to solve.

I demonstrate how we go about doing math journaling. I start with the problem "Create a word problem for 33+42. Then explain how to solve it." The students and I created a word problem that would lead to the mathematician needing to add the numbers 33 and 45. Next, we started our math journal sentence with "To solve this problem..." and then went into the explanation of the problem (adding the ones, then adding the tens).  After this initial problem demonstration, the kiddos were on their own! I wrote a similar problem  to the example that I modeled on the board. I said "create a word problem for 37+29 and then explain how to solve." The students could use my other example to write their own. Since now the problem included regrouping, there was a little extra challenge regarding how to explain it. I was so impressed to see students not copying my original problem, but using bits and pieces to concoct their own math journal. At the end of the lesson,
the students have two examples in their notebooks for future math journaling!

2. Make it reflective!
During the last three minutes of math, I have students pull out their math journals and write for the full three minutes. What did you do in math today? What did you learn? What did you have questions about? What strategies did you use today? How did I get the solution to a tricky problem? Three minutes will increasingly get students to feel more confident in their writing, and help integrate writing into math. Daily math journaling results in students improving their mathematical thinking and understanding of content vocabulary.

3. Share it!
During Writer's Workshop, we always have time at the end for two students to share to the class. After students share their work as an author, they say "Thank you for listening. I will now take constructive and respectful feedback." Other students raise their hand and say things like "I really liked the main character! However, I would like to know more about her. Could you add more description so I understand what she looks like?" It is so powerful for students to hear one another's work, and helps them understand what they are capable of and their own strengths and weaknesses. If this is done in Writer's Workshop... why not Math Workshop? At the end of math rotations, ask a couple of students to read their math journals to the class. After they read it, students can raise their hand and ask comments or questions about their writing. For example, "What is another way you could solve the problem?" or "Why did you choose to break up the number?" I truly believe that one of the most powerful ways that students learn is through listening to their peers' ideas and thoughts.

4. Keep practicing!
Math journaling comes with practice. Most students will not be able to produce much in the beginning, sometimes only 2-3 sentences. Constantly encouraging students to elaborate and explain their thought processes, as well as listening to other students' responses, will allow for the development and formation of math journaling.

 For most students, this is new! They have not melded writing and math together in school. There is a writing block in school, and a math block. Blurring the lines between two subjects so vividly can be startling and unexpected, but continuously bringing these two essential components together with practice strengths student understanding and reinforces expectations.

5. Create a sense of safety
Remind students: there is no "right" answer. Math journaling is shifting away from what is "wrong" and "right," to exploring the metacognitive opponent of math and seeing how problem-solving works. It is more than the destination- it is about the journey. How did the student start the process? What strategies did they try to solve the problem? What other ways could they have used? What was challenging for them? Math journaling is about the student and their journey as a mathematician. It allows mathematical thinking to take form and be visible in the classroom. Create an environment where students can take chances and are not afraid to express their mathematical thoughts and to expand on ways that they tried to solve a problem and were or were not successful.

6. Incorporate everyday
There are many times throughout math to incorporate math journaling. You could incorporate it into the first three minutes or last three minutes of math as a warmup or reflection. It can easily be integrated as a station/center. You could also do it small group if your students require more practice with the skill. Kids could also pair up in partners to discuss a more challenging problem, then write it by themselves to gain both encouragement and confidence.

Do you use math journals in your classroom? If so, what tips or tricks do you have to help students along with this process?

Are you starting math journals in your elementary classroom? Read about six easy ways to use journal entries  during the school day!

1 comment

  1. Thank you for your post. We are just beginning math journals. This was helpful.