Use math journals to give students opportunities to write about their thinking. We started our kindergarten math journals journey last year with the adoption of the Common Core Standards.
We implemented math journaling as a way for students to work through multi-step math work independently (or attempt to anyhow) and for them to explore expressing their thinking in written form using pictures, numbers and sometimes words.
I hope to outline some of my favorite features using some snapshots of student work.
We like to use composition notebooks as our way to keep it all organized.
They sure don’t end up “pretty” by the end of the year… but they are valuable for students to see their growth and for me to remember where we came from.
These have replaced all typical worksheets in my classroom.
Math journals gave us freedom. Here’s an example.
As teachers, we broke away from viewing addition and subtraction and using word problems as a “unit” that didn’t normally come until spring (in our curriculum that I ignore).
We are exploring various ways to make numbers and already working on missing addends early on. Early exposure and lots of practice helps us grow over the year.
We usually also give challenging work in order to show growth and repeat a similar prompt multiple times or later in the year.
[Above] You’ll notice this student was using an equation since they had background knowledge from an older sibling – not typical for November, but I wouldn’t have been able to learn this on the typical worksheet I was previously using.
Offering choice is a feature that I appreciate from using journals.
Allowing students space and opportunity to organize their thinking as it makes sense to them is important.
Now, do all students complete every journal successfully? Um, the answer is a big no.
In fact struggling students do struggle. Following directions, completing multi-steps and practicing the math concept all at the same time does make this more difficult in general.
But then again, you’re not coming to school to do easy. You’re here to learn.
Ahem, here is an example of work that we’ve all seen. Generally you’ve got someone who didn’t follow directions and totally went off base.
I write notes on work like this before the student reattempts or attempts with more teacher guidance on the next page.
Previously we were doing worksheets in class and they were fixing them all with me before they went home.
Parents weren’t seeing the errors and misconceptions.
Now, I have a documentation tool and a communication tool by using this format. I also “grade” these by writing each student simple feedback before returning them.
Sometimes (many times) we integrate the use of cards, dice or dominoes to make the journal entries feel fun, interactive and make each unique.
Check out the growth in organizing addition from the teddy bears prompt back in November. It shows how they often begin to organize their work in lines or groupings.
Differentiating student work has been a big change for us.
I can alter a journal prompt to match a group’s needs as seen using the 3 stars note. I wanted this group to work together.
Here are a few of my favorite ways of differentiating a math prompt:
- Change the way they do the work
- Change the amount of work expected
- Change the range of numbers they are working with
- Change expectations for how work is shown
I also have the flexibility to create open ended opportunities for students to show what they know. This allows for instant differentiation – the kiddos do it themselves.
I love that my students could work above grade level easily and with less work on my behalf.
This student is working on decomposing numbers 20+ into groups of tens and ones.
Their group was very comfortable with numbers to 100, working above our grade level standards. Other groups had cards that focused on 11-19, which was directly aligned with our standards.
To recap what I’ve learned since using math journals in kindergarten – these are some of my favorite features:
- You can hit all standards that need repetition.
- Built in documentation [notebook provides one location]
- Improved and more sincere communication
- Get and give student feedback
- Easier to make open-ended
- You can involve materials to make it “interactive” and not a worksheet
- Teacher can better pinpoint misconceptions/errors
- They show growth [built in assessment tool]
- Can offer multi-step problems
And my favorite that is accompanied by our share time directly following our guided math time – the opportunity for students to show their thinking, organization, and understanding.
If you love the idea of math journals and want the prompts already done for you – get 74 math journal prompts just for kindergarten in my guided math pack.
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More on Guided Math
- Guided Math Overview
- Creating a Guided Math Binder
- Guided Math – How to Get Started
- Guided Math in Kindergarten: Mission Possible
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