After reading several articles regarding formative assessment and its role in effective teaching and learning approaches, we were asked to critically review an assessment approach we use in our professional practice. For my critical review, I analyzed mathematical storytelling. Mathematical storytelling is comprised of a carefully selected mathematical problem solving task and a reflective metacognitive memoir. Metacognition is the awareness of one’s thinking. Memoir is a genre usually referring to a piece of autobiographical writing focusing on some problematic event. Together they represent a powerful instructional strategy and assessment tool that allows learners to experience what it means to do mathematics by thinking about and communicating their problem solving process to others. Through mathematical storytelling, specifically: Three Acts Math, learners are able to monitor their thinking as they engage in mathematical problem solving.
For further insights on how to use Mathematical Storytelling check out my review on how creative writing supports creative thinking in mathematics and how this strategy allows educators to formatively assess understanding and inform instructional decisions. Below, I explain why mathematical storytelling, while not a common form of instruction or assessment, is meaningful and worthwhile to me.
THE ART OF MATHEMATICAL STORY TELLING
Through my vast experiences and challenges I have been able to connect my natural love for English to learning and doing math. In reality, isn’t math just a big story? Don’t the letters and symbols reveal secrets, like clues? Isn’t the problem or situation like the introduction? Consequently I became the author and editor of several math stories. I began to write mathematical stories using my own terms at my own pace. By viewing math as a story I controlled how I approached the problem, I identified the pieces I needed to solve the mystery, and I justified the conclusion using support I identified throughout my story. However, over time I learned to stop erasing my mistakes and embrace them as turning points, essential pieces of key information that defined the conclusion or the way the story pans out. I compare my mistakes to the pivotal, heart stopping moments that occur in all great stories where the main character gets into trouble. How do they recover? What would a good story be without that moment of error? I can’t help but think of The Help when Minnie gives her famous pie to Ms. Hilly and earns the title of a thief. Man oh man, what a mistake that was, but could you imagine what would have happened if Minnie hadn’t done that and the group didn’t have the pie insurance once the book was published? That was a pretty good mistake to make, right?
But, when you think about it, is the end of any good story really the end or is it just another beginning? How would you write the sequel? What ideas would you connect your new understanding to? Learning serves the same purpose as writing or telling a story: It allows you to see your growth and development as a learner, to see where you started and how far you’ve come, just like the protagonist transforms as the storyline thickens. You know, bad guy turns good, coward becomes brave, villain evolves into a hero, etc., etc. But, if the main character doesn’t evolve, then there isn’t much of a story…the point I’m trying to make is, if you cannot see your growth and reflect on new understanding as you progress, then learning is not really happening. You must learn from your mistakes in order to transform and develop as a learner.
Approaching math as if you are writing or telling a story allows you to see the big picture, to connect topics and subjects instead of viewing them as disjoint, separate ideas. It reveals a purpose for learning math that is more than the mundane, and a reason for your hard work as you write your own math story. Having gone through this process, I have realized the importance of my job as a math teacher. I need to make the process worthwhile; I need to present problems to my students that force them to think and reflect, problems that are designed to change their way of thinking and that encourage them to grow as learners and doers of math. And, since I’m a book junky and love a good protagonist, I’m sure you can imagine how lucky I feel that I get to watch my students transform into learners… and get paid for it!! Best job EVER. In case you cannot relate, let me help you: You know when you get done reading a really good book or watching a great movie and you feel changed? That’s the feeling. I am transformed watching them transform. There’s nothing better than watching someone cease to hate math and begin to love it…besides maybe feeling that way yourself.