“Mathematics” and “journals” are two words that people usually do not use in one sentence. The idea that keeping a journal can help children develop better math skills might sound odd at first, but this technique can provide outstanding results. Journaling is typically connected with the constructivist approach to teaching math, but the technique can be applied to various traditional and non-traditional methods, such as, for example, Singapore math, which has recently become very popular among teachers.
Many students and teachers would probably agree that explaining math problems to others is one of the best methods of gaining better understanding of the problem and solidifying newly developed skills. Journaling works in a similar way, only this time you are explaining the problem to yourself. To solve math exercises, students rarely use words and descriptions, therefore they quickly forget the connection between different facts, which was once so obvious to them. Journals help students fill that gap and provide them with an explanation of the procedure written in their own words, therefore easier to understand than descriptions in students’ textbooks. Kids can also use journals to keep a record of everything they have learned so far and to make notes about issues, which seem difficult or unclear to them. Journaling helps students better communicate their achievements and problems with math, but journals can be also used by teachers to evaluate children’s progress and determine which problems require more practice.
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The basics of keeping a math journal
The most important thing about journaling is regularity: your students do not have to keep a record of every problem solved, but they should mark in their journals every recently mastered math fact, such as learning new math terminology or algorithms. At first, your students might struggle with making new entries, but ideally it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to make a note in the journal. New entries do not have to contain only words, young children and students, who struggle with making good descriptions of math facts can also use pictures to illustrate what they have learned. Be prepared that in the beginning your students will need directions to be able to make good entries. You might start by asking them to describe what they have successfully learned and what was problematic. You can also ask them additional questions, such as: “Which method did you use to solve the problem and why? What were you able to achieve thanks to this method? Did you enjoy the process or did you experienced any problems with the method?”. It is also important to remind your students that there are no bad or good answers to these questions and it is all about their personal experience. It might also take a bit of practice, before you learn how to effectively use math journals to improve your teaching. A good idea is to try professional development for teachers and apply at a seminar or a short course, which explains the rules of journaling to discover the real potential of this method.