Writing and the secondary mathematics teacher
O'Kelley, Sharon Kay
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Although much research has focused on the use of writing in K–12 mathematics classes, little has been done on teachers’ experiences with writing in mathematics and how those experiences shape their attitudes about incorporating writing into their lessons. A time to explore these responses to writing in mathematics is when teachers are in the preservice phase of their careers or when they are returning to school to advance their careers. In this study, I sought to explore the experiences of five preservice and one inservice teacher in a graduate mathematics education course as they explored mathematics with technology and prepared 11 written reports for Internet publication. I asked the participants to take notes on their work and complete a written reflection after they finished each report. Through the use of questionnaires, three interviews of each participant, field notes based on class meetings, and analysis of all writings, I gained insight into how the participants responded to the writing in terms of their attitudes and beliefs as well as their capabilities in communicating mathematics in writing. I analyzed all responses, except the reports, according to emerging themes in how the participants approached their work. I analyzed the written reports according to a constructed framework based on Leinhardt’s (1987) signs of an expert explanation. How the teachers responded was based on the type of writing they were asked to do, their target audience, and the beliefs they held about mathematics and writing in mathematics. Those participants who used writing as a tool to support metacognitive behavior while exploring mathematics tended to respond most favorably to the writing. However, all struggled in their explanations to some degree. Issues of providing clear goals, adequate explanations of graphs, the proper use of mathematical language, and the integration of mathematics and words sometimes interfered with their abilities to effectively communicate the mathematics. In view of these findings, I recommend that mathematics educators use informal and formal writing activities that support metacognitive behavior in the exploration of mathematics. I also recommend a modification to Leinhardt’s (1987) framework to help teachers learn how to write to communicate mathematics and how to assess student writing.