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Math Lessons and Journaling

Ways that incorporating journaling into math class can help students further reflect on their strengths and weaknesses

Audrey Campbell
Audrey Campbell

An increasing number of math instructors are utilizing writing, specifically math journaling, to enhance student learning. From Pre-K to graduate school, educators see the benefits of cross-subject lessons that encourage students to reflect on their mathematical processes. With writing, they think more deeply about the steps they took to solve a problem, the mistakes they may have made along the way, and how they can approach similar or different challenges down the road.

Here are three tips for journaling in a math class at any age:

Set Students Up for Success
  • Just like in a literacy class, utilize a writing rubric to outline your classroom expectations for math journaling and model what a sample entry would look like together with your students.

  • Allow students sufficient time to think. Thoughtful journaling takes time, especially when it requires a student to reflect on their learning and verbalize questions, concerns, or goals.

  • Journal consistently, but not necessarily daily: it's more beneficial to do math journals with new concepts related to growth in mathematical problem-solving.

Provide a Variety of Journal Topics
  • In an elementary classroom, choose topics for math journaling that encourage reflection and self-awareness. Students are building their foundational math skills, so identifying where they get stuck and how to approach new problems enhances their relationship with mathematics moving forward. Some sentence starters could be:

    • I knew I was right when...

    • If I missed____________ I would have to__________________.

    • The thing you have to remember with this kind of problem is...

    • Tips I would give a friend to solve this problem are...

  • In a high school or higher education setting, problem sets and journal entries can get students thinking about math challenges in unique or unexpected ways. Multi-faceted problems can inspire students to take risks and try a new way of problem-solving. At the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, one professor of mathematics had students complete “learning logs" to explore ideas, clarify thinking and assess the course, the instructor, and themselves.

Empower Students to Take Ownership of Their Learning
  • Facilitate discussions with students after they have written in their math journals so they have the chance to share their thinking. Who knows? They may realize that they weren't the only ones who struggled with the challenge problem and help each other to find a different strategy.

  • Keep your own journal. When students see their teachers writing, sharing, and reflecting, they are more inspired to do the same.

  • Seek new topics and activities to keep math journaling fresh and engaging for your students. Check out Denise Gaskin's blog post Writing to Learn Math for a variety of ideas.

No matter how you choose to incorporate journaling into your math class, know that any amount of cross-subject learning enhances the classroom for students and excites their brains in meaningful ways.

Additional Resources:

Writing Activities to Get Students Thinking and Learning

How to Use Math Journals in Class

Writing to Learn Math II