Writing Rough Drafts in Math Class?

When do “rough draft” and “math task” ever land in the same sentence? Honestly, when I first heard these two put together, it took me a couple of minutes to figure it out. After all, writing a rough draft is something I work on with my students during the ELA block, not during math class. However, as I learned while attending Dr. Amanda Jansen’s NCTM session a couple of days ago, rough drafts belong in math class, as well.

Here’s how it works:

  1. First, set up norms to help students understand the value of rough draft thinking. Click here for a creative example you may glean from.
  2. Introduce a mathematical task to your students, giving them a few minutes to individually think about what the task is asking them to do and how they might respond. If you need a good task, check out the free tasks on the Illustrative Mathematics website.
  3. Provide individual work time for students to attempt to represent their thinking while working solo. Help students understand that the focus is much more about the process and on their representations rather than on the “right answer.” Of course, students may use manipulatives and visuals throughout the process.
  4. Ask students to discuss their thinking so far with a partner or small group. IMPORTANT: Be sure you ask students to stop and share while they are still in the middle of their work so they can participate in “rough draft sharing” long before they’re finished.
  5. After the first-round discussion, students go back to their work, making revisions as warranted. Beforehand, be sure students understand that revision is not “fixing something that’s wrong.” It’s adding, extending, and reorganizing one’s work with new insights.
  6. Repeat steps four and five, above, a couple of times until students have had the opportunity to fully develop their ideas and get feedback from their partners.

As you can see, rough-draft thinking in math class very much resembles the iterative process of rough-draft writing during the ELA block. When students realize that they don’t have to have their ideas completely fleshed out prior to sharing with others, they learn to lean into one another in a collaborative effort to move forward.

This sounds magical – I can’t wait to try it out this week. How about you?

To learn more, check out this article by Dr. Jansen and her colleagues.


I would love to hear your thoughts on rough-draft thinking. How do you think it would play out in your classroom? Have you tried anything like this before? Do you have any refinements to suggest?

Please join in on the conversation by leaving your comments below.

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