The Benefits of Teaching with Math Journals

In this post, I want to talk about how I used math journals when I went back to the classroom. Using a journal has been around at least since I entered the teaching field 18 years ago. At the beginning of the year, I found myself swimming in student papers. I knew that I did not want to continue in this manner. I watched how the classroom teacher was using her language arts journals and decided to give math journals a whirl.

One of my goals for my students was to give them a plethora of experiences to see math as a tool for understanding their world better. These experiences would often be things like counting objects around the classroom, measuring our stuffed reading buddies, counting collections, etc. The journals were a way to record a snapshot of what they had done during the center time. Math journals became the student’s record of learning.

Two simple ways I used them were for class debriefs and logistical accountability. My students loved sharing their work with their classmates. As students were cleaning up the centers, I would walk around and look for student work I wanted to highlight for everyone. I would often use this as an opportunity for a learner to build confidence or model the expectations I had for a center. Creating a community of learners allows the students to feel safe to learn and grow. This community enables students to see each other as the experts in the room. Students naturally understand that the teacher is the expert, but I wanted them to recognize expertise in each other as well as themselves. This made a stronger community.

The second thing I used the journal for was logistical accountability. There will always be students that struggle to stay focused on their job. The journal was a tangible thing they could have finished. I simply gave them a smiley face if they followed the instructions, a half smiley face if they were close but forgot something important, and a sad face if they didn’t finish. I couldn’t believe how simple yet motivating that was for first graders.

Having students label their journal entries with words and numbers was an essential element that made the journal successful. They were already familiar with labeling in their language arts journals, so doing it in math wasn’t difficult. In math, we often talk about labeling our values (i.e., five blocks). Journaling was a perfect way to do it in 1st grade. They were labeling an experience and how numbers fit into that experience. It took a while to build the habit but was well worth the time.

As a teacher, I wanted to focus on what the students were constructing and build off of their constructions. Reflecting on my time in the classroom, I realize that a journal was another opportunity for my students to reflect on the recent experience and record it. As I mentioned in my previous blog, when a student reflects on an experience they are building a mental image. Putting together this image is a valuable skill that they use in mathematics to construct a concept of number. Journals had multiple benefits when I used them in the classroom. How have you used journals? What are some tips you would give someone starting to use them?

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