You can use math journals to give students opportunities to write about their thinking and ditch worksheets once and for all. I loved using math journals in my classroom and here’s why.
I hope to highlight two of my favorite reasons why using math journals is awesome with snapshots of student work.
A little background
Here is a little bit of background so you understand why we wanted to start math journals and what we used.
We used math journals in a year-long math journal center.
We started 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.
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.
We can explore various ways to make numbers early on and work on missing addends way before our traditional curriculum ever told us to.
Early exposure and lots of practice helps us grow over the year.
Journaling shows growth
We usually give challenging math prompts 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 about this student on the typical worksheet I was previously using.
When you use journals, they give students space and opportunity to organize their thinking as it makes sense to them. That’s 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, when we were doing worksheets in class, 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.
Math journals make it easy to differentiate
Differentiating student work has been a big change for us.
I can alter a journal prompt to match a group’s needs.
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.
Now showing growth and differentiation are the two main reasons I love using math journals.
But I’ve learned a few more awesome things about using math journals that I wanted to share:
- You can hit all standards that need repetition
- It’s built-in documentation [notebook provides one easy-to-track location]
- Improved and more sincere communication
- Get and give student feedback
- You can make them open-ended
- Materials to make it “interactive”
- The teacher can better pinpoint misconceptions/errors
- They show growth [built in assessment tool]
- Can give multi-step problems
W share out math journals directly following our guided math time – it is my students’ opportunity to show their thinking, organization, and understanding using spoken words.
If you love the idea of math journals too 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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