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Math Workshop – Your Students Will Thank You

Math has been the bane of my educational career, starting from kindergarten (“Count what?”) to when I was studying to get my teaching credential and had to take an Educational Foundations of Math class (“There’s a difference between concept and skill?!”).

Teaching math was always a challenge because I was mostly transferring how I’d learned math (memorize, memorize, memorize) to my students, regardless of their understanding (with the attitude, “It worked for me!” although it really hadn’t worked for me). Fortunately, through my years as a Math Instructional Coach, math curriculum writer, and math tutor, I’ve learned quite a few strategies that have helped me. In particular, the Math Workshop Model (similar to the Readers Workshop and Writers Workshop models) encourages engagement, higher order thinking, peer to peer support, and an understanding of the learning goals. Use visual models, interactive boards, annotation and collaboration tools, and learning games to enhance the workshop model. Hopefully, then, math becomes a block of time to look forward to instead of to avoid (for all involved!).

It’s hard to imagine that all of the interactivity described can happen in a 1-hour math period. But, implementing Math Workshop allows for flexible groups, differentiated instruction, active participation, and using problem solving as a jumping-off point for teaching new concepts and skills. Generally, Math Workshop includes:

Opening with the whole class (10-15 minutes)

The opening is a mini-lesson in which you provide direct instruction on the target concept or skill. Create anchor charts using your interactive white board to record questions, key points and vocabulary, processes, etc. that students can reference. These charts can later be combined as part of a digital math journal. Share and update the digital journal as needed.

I’ve found that using the “think aloud” strategy when introducing and modeling a concept or skill is helpful. Incorporate math language and vocabulary in your “think aloud.” I have even ‘made a mistake’ and talked my way through correcting a step in a solution process. As students work both independently and collaboratively, you may hear similar “think alouds” from the students. This gives you great feedback on the clarity of your instruction and the depth of their understanding.

Practice, independent (15-20 minutes)

Students will practice what was taught or modeled in the openingIf students have a math notebook or journal, all work should be done here. You can use the work in these journals as a means of formative assessment to guide lesson planning and modifications. If using collaboration software with 1:1 devices, you can view the work of specific students (i.e. students who consistently have difficulties learning math concepts and skills, students on an IEP, English Language Learners, etc.).

Be warned: students may struggle during this period! Students are applying what they’ve learned in the mini-lesson, so you will see some “deep thought” as they do so. As you walk around and observe how they approach the problem(s), you are learning more about each student’s abilities, understanding, and misconceptions. These personal observations are also helpful for the closing and future lesson planning.

Discussion and collaboration, with a partner and/or in small groups (15-20 minutes)

During this block, students work with a partner or in small groups. A few things can happen:

  • students engage in discussion about what they’ve done in practice, clarifying for one another any misunderstandings about the concept or skill
  • students work together to solve word problems that require the application of the concept or skill taught in the opening
  • you can pull individual students or small groups for reteach, language support, or provide augmented activities for those who show clear and advanced understanding of what is taught

This is also a good time to listen to how students discuss what they’ve learned or explain how a skill can be done. Encourage their use of math language in discussions. This language will be used in their math journals or when they share out with the rest of the class at closing.

At times, the use of learning games can support what has been learned while also adding variety to what is routinely done. Being flexible and adaptable to all situations and learning levels is integral in a truly active learning environment. Games can offer students another means of accessing the learning that may be difficult otherwise.

Closing with the whole class (10 – 15 minutes)

On your interactive white board, display a problem that requires the skill taught in the lesson. Choose a student to explain how to find the answer, using an annotation tool that can record the work as it is done. The student can be one that showed understanding and successful application of the skill or one that used a different successful strategy to solve the practice or discussion problem(s).

You may also choose to give a short quiz on what has been learned, using a collaboration tool that collects student data to provide immediate feedback. Share the feedback with the students (an anonymous class list will prevent embarrassment while still giving you the data needed for planning the next lesson) so that they can see their own progress with the learning. This can be incredibly powerful for both you and the student. This will also contribute to “next steps” in lesson planning.

I have found that the Math Workshop Model can be adapted for different classroom “personalities” and needs, a variety of tools can be incorporated, and each block can be shortened or lengthened depending on need. Ultimately, the goal of any effective math lesson (regardless of the model of instruction) is that students feel confident as they successfully apply new learning. Maybe, just maybe, math time can bring on feelings of excitement instead of anxiety! Believe me, your students will thank you.

Posted in: Best Practices
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