I remember working on an experimental performance-based math project, years ago. Our students had several business-math related items to interact with and the culminating activity was the creation of a letter to investors explaining the company’s earnings.
During one usability session, instead of an earnings report, one student ended up penning a letter of resignation to the investors. I will paraphrase but he or she stated that “they didn’t pay attention in math class, so they were left without the tools to understand whether the company had done well or not.”
I learned a little about Math assessment development working on that project, but I learned even more about the importance of writing.
You have likely seen items like this:
Erika says she found a shortcut for doing multiplication problems. When she multiplies 3 times 24, she says, “3 times 4 is 12 ones, or 1 ten and 2 ones. Then there’s just 2 tens left in 24, so add it up and you get 3 tens and 2 ones.” Do you think Erika’s shortcut works? Explain your thinking in words and justify your response using a model or partial products.
Beyond what Common Core Math requires, having math students write to explain their answers can be very insightful. A student may be able to solve a simple equation or select the correct response for a battery of multiple-choice questions, but are you sure the student fully understands the full breadth of a concept?
A writing assignment can help. Student writing can help reveal the student’s thought process, and can help guide instruction.
For example, if you ask students to explain their support or opposition to a student field trip fee, using statistics, you may get some passionate essays filled with opinions (and notes on where the class should go), but will students just list statistics? Or will they weave the statistical information into a piece of writing that logically flows? Can they use math to support their opinion?
Asking students to write about math provides them with a life skill. Remember, even with texting and emailing truncating our writing styles, we still use writing as a form of communication in our day-to-day lives. You may write a letter or email complaining about a cable rate increase without even doing the math to figure out the exact percentage of the increase. You can help students to clearly communicate, in writing, about the math they encounter throughout their lives.
Math teachers: Try integrating an Essay Question into your assessments and encourage math students to write out their response.