Teachers have received limited guidance about writing during math instruction (Casa, Evans, Firmender, & Colonnese, 2017). Because of this, it is important to distinguish between writing about mathematics and mathematical writing. Writing about mathematics prioritizes the learning of literacy; but mathematical writing emphasizes mathematical reasoning (Casa, et al., 2017). This type of writing includes text, but also symbols, numerals, operations, pictures, charts, tables (Casa, et al., 2017). The overarching goal for mathematical writing is for students to reason mathematically and communicate ideas (Casa, Cahill, Cardetti, Choppin, & Cohen, 2016). Writing helps students justify and explain their ideas in order to make their reasoning clear (Casa, et al., 2016).
How can you incorporate mathematical writing into lessons?
First, consider the specific purposes of each type of mathematical writing:
- Exploratory: To personally make sense of a problem or one’s own ideas
- Informative: To describe or explain thoughts (“Explain your strategy, “What do you notice”…)
- Argumentative: To construct or critique an argument (“How do you know?”, “Convince a classmate”, “Do you agree or disagree and why?”….)
- Mathematically Creative: To elaborate ideas, document original ideas, or extend thinking beyond the original problem
Next, select prompts that encourage students to produce the type of mathematical writing that you desire. This ensures that the writing has the greatest possible impact on students’ math learning (Firmender, Casa, & Colonnese, 2017).
Finally, provide sentence starters to help students begin to write such as, “I agree with ____ because___”. This helps students organize their thinking and provides them with a starting point for writing.
Mathematical writing is a tool that can be used to further students’ reasoning and communication in all grade levels, starting in kindergarten; and it applies to all types of learners, including students with disabilities, English language learners, and students identified as gifted. (Firmender, Casa, & Colonnese, 2017).
More information on mathematical writing can be found in the Educational Leadership Journal and on the Math Writing Task Force website.
Casa, T., Cahill, J., Cardetti, F., Choppin, J., & Cohen, J. (2016). Types of and purposes for elementary mathematical writing: Task force recommendations. Retrieved from http://mathwriting.education.uconn.edu
Casa, T., Evans, K., Firmender, J., & Colonnese, M. (2017, February). Why should students write in math class? Educational Leadership, 74(5).
Firmender, J., Casa, T., & Colonnese, M. (2017). Write on: Promote students’ reasoning with different types and purposes for mathematical writing. Teaching Children Mathematics, 24(2), 85-92.