4.13 COMMUNICATING MATHEMATICS
Several lesson ideas have deliberately focused on the importance of getting students to communicate their mathematics both verbally and in written form in pairs or in small groups. This is an important feature emphasised in the revised syllabus. The usefulness of building up a lexicon of mathematical terms in a gradual fashion is mentioned a number of times in these Guidelines.
One possible intervention in this regard is mathematics journal writing. This can help students enormously in communicating their mathematical learning experiences. In addition the teacher can use the insights gained to check for student understanding and where difficulties occur. Journal writing can take place over a period from one week up to a month or longer if so desired. Students are invited to think about what they are doing in class and then at the end of class (or for homework) to complete open-ended questions under such headings as: summary of lesson, questions to ask the teacher and reflection. Students need to know that the aim of journal writing is to help them to understand more clearly what they are doing in class. In the section on reflection, students could be presented with a number of suggestions including:
- Describe your favourite mathematics class
- Describe how you feel about mathematics
- How could we use mathematics class to best advantage?
- Where do the rules of mathematics come from?
- Can you understand what I do?
- What can I do to help you with your mathematics?
- Can you relate what we are doing to other topics that we have covered?
Practising teachers who use journal writing regularly with their classes comment favourably on the honesty of student feedback and on how it contributes to improving their mathematical understanding. Thus, there are benefits for the teacher, student and the student/teacher relationship.
Here is a comment from one practising teacher on the merits of journal writing.
The benefits to me as teacher were enormous. Through reading the students' journals I was in a better position to evaluate and offer remediation to individual students. I received unique feedback that I would not have had access to previously. The students were telling me that they liked my use of examples but I also realised that they were becoming dependent on them and that this was leading them to learning by rote. I put them working in pairs and I quickly realised that what they were learning collaboratively today they will learn independently tomorrow. I became more aware of the tasks that I was setting and I began to scaffold and fade exercises according to their needs. Journal writing is a very useful tool in the context of improving communication skills and student understanding as you the teacher engage in a unique and continuous dialogue with each individual student in the class.