Writing in the Math Classroom?! A Guided Inquiry Reflection

I remember the first day of my first Guided Inquiry Unit. I told my Algebra 2 students (a mixture of Sophomore-Seniors in high school) that we were going to try something a little different. I asked them to keep an open mind throughout the process. I explained that I was nervous about this unit, but asked for their support because I believed this unit would be of great interest to them. They nodded along, smiled, and promised to try their best.

Then, I asked them to complete their first journal prompt. In math class. Oh, the audacity. I can still see the eye rolling. One student actually muttered, “Ummm, Mrs. Prise, I have English next hour, not now.” I put on my best ‘fake it until you make it’ face and put up the journal timer.

I remember this day not because of the anxiety or the eye rolling of annoyed teens, but instead because it was the day that I learned something truly incredible – writing in math class allowed me to converse with and understand students in a way I never thought possible. Throughout the unit, students who never spoke in class wrote vivid reflections, and I had the opportunity to write back and continue our conversation. I was able to judge student’s understanding quickly, without having to have them complete a typical assessment. I gained insight on what my students appreciated about the GI unit, and what they would recommend I change. Most importantly, I understood what my students were thinking.

When the Guided Inquiry unit ended, both my students and I were sad that the journaling was over. It was back to goal quizzes, homework, and exams. As the days went on, I felt myself using various GI ideas to make my content more engaging and applicable to the real world. But, there was still a hole where the journaling had been.

I’m thrilled to say that in August, each student will keep a composition notebook in my classroom, and we will journal at least twice a week. Sometimes, the prompts will be used as a checkpoint for me to see what students understand and what students are struggling with. Other times, it will be used to check vocab comprehension. Finally, sometimes, the journal prompts will ask a goofy ‘would you rather’ question, so that I can honor and value my students as individuals. I can see them as more than just math students, but as people who deserve a cheerleader in their corner. Whether their journal entries are excited, happy, lonely, or angry, they will know their math teacher is there to help with whatever they need. I may not be able to complete every unit in a true Guided Inquiry manner, but that doesn’t mean I can’t improve my practice with its aspects and ideas.

Still think writing in journals is just something for the English classroom? Think again! I’m going to turn all my student’s ideas about math class upside down, and I’ve never been more anxious, or more excited.

Julia Prise
Geometry, Algebra 2, College Algebra Teacher
Norman High School
jprise@norman.k12.ok.us