I am so tired of students writing and writing and writing around in circles, and not actually SAYING anything, when it comes to "explaining their thinking" in math!

There are a tonne of words on the page, and sometimes even elaborate pictures with intricate details, but the mathematical communication is weak at best. Certainly, few teachers or other students could look at the so-called solution and make out what exactly the students did. As I have been reflecting on this in recent weeks, it occurs to me that perhaps our criteria are too many and too specific.

Today, we summarized the long list we had made several weeks ago, and re-wrote our criteria list. On it now were only two items:

1. Write a sentence that answers the question.

2. Show how you got the answer.

There are a tonne of words on the page, and sometimes even elaborate pictures with intricate details, but the mathematical communication is weak at best. Certainly, few teachers or other students could look at the so-called solution and make out what exactly the students did. As I have been reflecting on this in recent weeks, it occurs to me that perhaps our criteria are too many and too specific.

Today, we summarized the long list we had made several weeks ago, and re-wrote our criteria list. On it now were only two items:

1. Write a sentence that answers the question.

2. Show how you got the answer.

We began with a problem as usual, and then, after the debrief, I transferred the solutions we had collectively come up with to an anchor chart, under the heading, "Does your solution show what you did to get the answer? Can we see how you solved the problem?" Since there were four different examples given, students could see that there is more than one way to do this.

We also noted that it was important to remember to include an actual sentence that answers the question. Some students had been getting so caught up in the solution, that they never actually answered the question. Insisting that they do so helped many of them clarify their own understanding of what it was they were thinking about.

We also noted that it was important to remember to include an actual sentence that answers the question. Some students had been getting so caught up in the solution, that they never actually answered the question. Insisting that they do so helped many of them clarify their own understanding of what it was they were thinking about.

This lesson was only one example of the effectiveness of the new, shorter and hopefully improved criteria list; stay tuned for the long-term test of its value.