Bloggary #5: Writing Workshop for Math

Daniels, Zemelman and Steineke (2007) suggest teachers implement a writing workshop in classes providing critical feedback for emerging writers. Writing in a math class may seem foreign to an outsider, but writing can help students articulate their mathematical understanding. In fact, mathematical language is highly technical and best practices include direct writing with clear concise explanations and supporting graphics. The style of writing is very different from expository or novels and requires great attention to detail.

High school students taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes are exposed to a style of writing called Free Response Questions (FRQ’s). For math classes, many students are not previously exposed to FRQ writing which requires a direct style supported by evidence and facts. Educators wait until junior and senior level classes to present FRQ style writing which is unfortunate because the thought required to write such documents is invaluable. Teaching students to write FRQ’s using the Writing Workshop would provide students with tools to exceed standards on AP exams. Math writing tends to be a little bit more focused than expository writing since students are limited by their content knowledge. However, if teachers take a “toolbox” approach to the learning, students can access many previous skills. The “toolbox” approach is where skills are learned and then stored in a student’s toolbox as a collection to access when approaching challenging problems.

Implementation of a writing workshop would not be challenging for an instructor. FRQ’s are already written with grading materials easily accessible for teachers and provided by the College Board (the testing agency for AP tests). Since all previous tests are published and accessible online, students will have no problem selecting a topic of their choice to write a full response. Teachers can select specific criteria for grading the writing aspect while the published solutions can be used for the accuracy of the mathematics. Features math teachers may look for include; precision of language, supported claims (words, pictures or other) and organization of thought. In my classroom, I envision a workshop where each student works on up to five FRQ’s at one time and uses partner grading or teacher conferencing to work through many technical writing issues. Students would be presented with a model and brief writing instruction and their work packet would be graded for specific writing elements to help students articulate their argument and write clearly.

Since teaching a topic is a true indicator of understanding, the project could be extended by having students write their own FRQ’s and create a grading rubric for future students. Students could set goals for what they hope to gain from their writing, possibly understanding a challenging concept more deeply. Students need not be limited to the domain of calculus, but rather they could use their creative license to write a question for students in lower classes. This intense focus and peer review helps students engage in the material for a longer period of time which increases the chances of comprehending the content (Borich, 2014). Since the AP exam expects content mastery, the writing workshop technique can help students engage in challenging material for longer.

Sources:

Borich, G. D. (2014). Effective Teaching Methods: Research-Based Practice (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ.: Pearson Education, Inc.

Daniels, H., Zemelman, S., & Steineke, N. (2007). Content-Area Writing: Every Teachers Guide ( ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

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