Writing in Mathematics
The Importance of Small-Group and Whole-Class Discussion
Just as small-group work and whole-class discussions can be powerful supports for student reading and sense making in mathematics classrooms, they also serve as an important support for student writing in mathematics classrooms. For instance, the third Standard for Mathematical Practice (MP3) calls for students to “construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.” Students who learn to do this through small-group and whole-group discussion may find it easier to lay out their “viable arguments” and “critique the reasoning of others” in writing. Similarly, the sixth Standard for Mathematical Practice is “attend to precision.” Students who have opportunities to practice communicating precisely to others during small-group and whole-class discussion are better poised to convey this communication more precisely in writing.
For example, Burns (2004), in her list of strategies for incorporating writing during mathematics class, offers the following: “Have students discuss their ideas before writing” (p. 32). She explains that most students find it easier to talk than to write, and opportunities to talk can help students organize their ideas, and get feedback on those ideas. In general, many teachers feel it is easier for students to get their thoughts down on paper if they have a chance to practice articulating those thoughts verbally before they write (e.g., Anderson & Little, 2004; Baxter et al., 2002; Chapin et al., 2013; Lynch & Bolyard, 2012).
At the same time, some teachers have also found that asking students to write about their thoughts is a good way to prepare for a small-group or whole-class discussion, where students can get productive feedback on their thinking and their writing, and where both that thinking and that writing can be strengthened (e.g., Countryman, 1992; Fernstein, 2007). There are also benefits that come to the readers of the mathematical writing of others: it provides them with opportunities to think about and discuss different mathematical points of view and broaden their own perspectives (e.g., Burns, 2007).