The last two years, I’ve assigned my students a daily writing prompt for homework called “My Understanding.” I stole the idea from a colleague of mine who I observed during my second or third year teaching at another school in my district. Every night, she had students write a reflection piece on the day’s learning. It had to be 15 lines long (hand-written in the NB is typical, but I’ve always let students who prefer to type to print it out and put it in their notebooks).
Some nights I gave lesson-specific prompts, some days I gave specific generic prompts, and other times, I just asked students to use the generic prompts I had them tape into their NB in September.
The first year I did them, I had a student teacher with me, and she was able to go around, read their responses, and give them a little bit of feedback while I taught. When she started taking over, I would swap that role out with her. But last year, even though I had a co-teacher in my ICT class, she wasn’t “bought in” to the value of the My Understanding prompts, so she didn’t want to check them. That wound up meaning that I had little time to check HW and I rarely had a chance to read over them in detail; more often, I would skim them and check my clipboard that it was complete, with no thought to the content.
I stand by the importance of students writing reflections daily on what they’re learning, but I’m trying to think about realistic ways that I can leverage it.
Let’s start by considering the prompts I could use. In the past, I’ve given students a handout on the first day we set up our notebooks wherein I give them the “generic” prompts to use whenever we don’t have a specific one assigned. Then, on most daily HW assignments, I try to give students a specific My Understanding prompt to use with the day’s lesson (sometimes something like “Explain to a student who was absent how to…” or “Compare and contrast proportional and non-proportional linear relationships). Here are the prompts that were on the handout I gave out last year:
- Use vocabulary that you learned in the lesson to show your understanding.
- Write about the investigation that you did that day to help you understand the lesson.
- Answer the focus question for the day, using evidence from the class lesson.
- Connect the concept that you just learned with “old” concepts that you learned earlier in the year, last year etc. (“How is today’s topic connected with math you already know?)
- Explain how to use a strategy you heard about in class today.
- Make up your own problem based on a concept that you just learned from the lesson. Be sure to solve your own problem as well.
- The purpose of this assignment is… By the end of this assignment, I understand….
- By the end of this class, I am still confused about… Some questions I still have are… One thing I can do to help myself is…
- I used to think… but now I know…
I’m wondering about whether to require students to create their own examples daily…
These are the things I’m thinking about right now about checking it off and using it after they write it:
- How will I assign a grade? In the past, I’ve always done based on completion, with some points off for not writing enough. My goal has been to help students reflect on what they know and what they don’t know, and to formulate their questions in advance of class. I’ve typically given 100%, 85%, 65%, and then 0%.
- Could students write a daily My Understanding that gets checked off, and then on Fridays, they come in with one short paragraph of either their best My Understanding OR they write two sentences that summarize their MY U’s for the week and they write down any questions they’d like me to answer?
- Could students do a 3-2-1 on Fridays: 3 new skills/topics you learned this week, 2 questions you still have, and 1 big idea of the week to summarize their My U’s?
- Could students do a turn-and-talk about their My U’s from the previous night?
- Can students read it aloud to their partner (and then swap), so that they’re having an opportunity to read aloud something about math? One of the PDs I went to last year emphasized the importance of having students read and write and speak about math, and that one of the easiest ways to have students read about math is to have them read their own writing aloud.
- At the end of a unit, can students write down either a highlights of their My U’s from the unit OR a 3-2-1 OR a summary of what they learned?
- Should it be graded as a daily assignment? weekly?
I also remember in Mathematical Mindsets (by Jo Boaler) that she mentions some writing prompt ideas for HW assignments as well, and I feel like I’d want to revise the questions I ask students based on some of those ideas.
I guess at this point, I’m wondering if other people have their students write daily as part of a math HW assignment, what prompts you use regularly (and which ones give the best results), as well as how you assess it and use it to inform your instruction and to drive your students’ thinking.