This (blank) in Math

Students say interesting things. No matter what they’re talking about, students have so many insightful, thoughtful, funny, or just plain awesome thoughts to share. Because I so greatly enjoy reading what my students have to say, because students love the chance to express themselves, and because reflecting on math and life has so many benefits, I decided to have students regularly complete the “This (blank) in Math” reflection sheet.

In August 2016, I started using “This Week in Math” with five minutes to go every Friday. It wasn’t a failure by any means, but it didn’t work the way I had hoped it would. Many students rushed to complete it so they could leave, but even if they had spent a lot of time on it, the prompts simply didn’t lend themselves to the sort of thought that I wanted my students to give. Don’t get me wrong: I still like “This Week in Math,” and if I hadn’t found a better Friday routine (The Finale…which I’ll blog about eventually), I’d still be using it. What I really wanted was something bigger, better, and more awesome. I found it.

On the last day of the first quarter, we completed two main tasks. First, I announced first quarter awards, which are essentially Shout-outs covering the entire quarter. Second, students filled out “This Quarter in Math.” On the last day of the first semester, I did something similar: first semester awards and “This Semester in Math.” And as you’d expect, I repeated this – awards included – at the end of the third quarter (a different version of “This Quarter in Math”) and at the end of the year (“This Year in Math”). I read every single one of my students’ responses, and I tried to write at least two comments for each student. I actually ended up scanning the sheets so that I’d still have a copy even after I returned them to the students. The whole process, though time-consuming, was amazing.

I attribute the success of the quarterly reflections to a few factors. First, because we completed these longer reflections only once per quarter, students treated them as more important than the shorter, weekly ones. Second, because I gave the students much of the class period to complete their reflections (don’t worry – we still did math!), they had time to respond thoughtfully (even if they didn’t always do so). Third, because the reflections included as many non-math prompts as math prompts, students viewed them as less of a chore and more of an interesting way to end the term. Finally, because I valued my students’ thought and opinions – and I did so in a noticeable way – students felt comfortable genuinely expressing themselves, knowing full well that I actually wanted to read what they had to say.

I will absolutely use “This (blank) in Math” again this coming school year. I truly look forward to reading these reflections, so much so that I’m considering doing a sort of pre-reflection at the beginning of the year. I have an old student information sheet that I can tidy up to serve this purpose. The real question is if I’ll start using weekly reflections again. I don’t have a firm answer yet, but I’m leaning toward replacing them with something else. I plan, for example, to build some sort of “self-assessment” into each assessment I give (e.g. “confident, fuzzy, or no idea?”), and I’d very much like to find ways to regularly meet with students and discuss their progress in the course. Time might not allow this, but it’s a goal to work toward. Regardless of how I do it, having students reflect on math and on life will continue to play a prominent role in my teaching.

Interested in seeing the reflection sheets? Head over to the Documents page. Feel free to use or modify them as you see fit. Enjoy!

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