Writing in Math Classroom, Part 1: Functions and Linear Functions

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SWBAT create viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others. SWBAT identify relative strengths and weaknesses in written explanations of math concepts and procedures.

Big Idea

Students score sample MCAS open responses in groups as an entry point to understanding and reflecting on their own writing!

Entry Ticket

15 minutes

To begin this lesson, students will be given a blank copy of pages 1-2 of the Quarter 1 Algebra I Common Writing Prompt (Algebra I Writing Prompt and Rubrics). Students also are given the Reflection on Writing worksheet that provides space for students to respond to the prompts for this task.  

As an opening to the lesson, I ask students to complete a Think-Pair-Share on the following prompt:

What parts of the problem are you comfortable solving?

What parts of the problem are difficult to solve? Why?

The intent of the Think-Pair-Share is to get students to think about the math content in the algebra writing task. The section concludes with a class-wide discussion to identify potential areas of understanding and difficulty with the Open Response Item.

The MCAS item and scoring guide and student work can be found here: MCAS 2012 Sample Item #17 and Scoring Guide

Setting Expectations: Reviewing a Writing Scoring Rubric

20 minutes

I now inform the students that they will each be scoring examples of student work on the writing task. As I make this announcement I hand out a copy of both the MCAS Scoring Rubric and my school's Short Response Rubric (see pages 3-5 of Algebra I Writing Prompt and Rubrics).

I ask students to silently read the rubrics and write down any questions they have. The class then has the opportunity to ask clarifying questions about the rubrics. 

Differentiating the Lesson: For some of my classes, I only hand out the MCAS scoring rubric and do not hand out my school's scoring rubric. I feel reviewing and using two rubrics for this first focus lesson on assessing writing can overwhelm some students. I would rather have students feel comfortable understanding the expectations, and being able to asses responses, of one rubric rather than partially understand two rubrics.  

Collaborative Sort: Written Response Sort

20 minutes

Students are grouped by how they, themselves, scored on the writing prompt for this section. Each group is handed an assortment of model student work from the MCAS public release. Each group is asked to work together to score each of the responses based on the rubric(s). 

Each group also completes a short worksheet summarizing the reasoning or strategy for their sorting method. The responses on this worksheet may vary considerably. Some students may say that they paid close attention to the rubric to score the responses. Other groups might say responses that scored higher tended to be writing that was more organized and/or used details to support their arguments.

I intentionally use writing of others to begin this exercise because writing is personal and assessing the writing of another person can be easier than reflecting on your own writing. Using anonymous responses also allows me to have students talk about writing in groups. At this point in the school year, I would not have students peer edit in my own classes. I view this as an achievable goal, not a given.



Independent Work: Reflection on Writing

20 minutes

After scoring the sample responses, I ask students to complete the independent work section of the Reflection on Writing worksheet.

The prompt asks students to reflect on the previous activity. Students are asked to identify relative areas of strength and weakness in their own writing. During the last few minutes of this section, students Turn and Talk with a partner summarizing their reflections. This partner sharing prepares students to share with the class.

This section  of the lesson is all about giving students time to reflect on their writing, and how to make it better. Today's exercise is the first in a series of writing lessons  students experience in my classroom. I like to begin by having students set personal goals. Research suggests setting goals, no matter how realistic those goals may be, supports improvement. 

Exit Ticket and Recap

15 minutes

To conclude this lesson I facilitate a class discussion. We summarize the activity and I ask students to share some of their reflections. The question “What did we learn today?” is written on the white board. During this discussion students are expected to take notes on the main ideas shared by the group.

I remind students of the importance of writing in all classes. Students are also reminded that the next MCAS writing assessment will occur in a few months. Until then, we will continue practicing and working on writing in math class.