Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Starting Math Workshop

One of my personal goals for this school year is to transition to a math workshop model. As much as possible, my co-teacher and I try to teach math in smaller groups for a number of reasons.

First, we have an inclusion classroom, so we have a wide range of needs. Teaching in small(er) groups allows us to work more closely with each student. We are able to gain a clear idea of the skills each student has mastered, and who needs more support. That data helps us to differentiate our instruction, making sure all students are progressing toward our objectives.

Next, we have a large class. Right now, we have 31 students and 2 teachers. Working in smaller groups ensures students are engaged and on task. Moreover, our time is much more efficient because there are usually fewer distractions.

With our 31 students we can split the class to parallel teach (teach the same lesson at the same time) and each have about 15 kiddos, but we don’t really feel like we experience the benefits of small group instruction with such a large group. We also use alternative grouping, where one teacher leads a whole group lesson, while the other teacher teaches a small group of 5-6 kids. Unfortunately, we still have a very large group of students with one teacher, and they are not benefiting from small group instruction.

Last year we sort of stumbled into a grouping method that finally seemed to make a difference. Half of our students would work independently on a review task, assessment, or project while my co-teacher and I would split the remaining students, effectively allowing us each to have a quarter of our total students for small group instruction. We could also set up 3 rotations, allowing each teacher to meet with a sixth of the class. After replicating this grouping system as often as we could, we started to have serious discussions about making this a regular part of our future teaching. This year, we are intentionally moving toward a math workshop model for our instruction in order to take advantage of these small group possibilities.

Math Workshop Explained

Math workshop generally consists of a short mini lesson for the whole class and centers or stations in which students work independently for a time and then receive small group instruction with the teacher. The blog post Differentiate Math Instruction with M.A.T.H Workshop at The Core Inspiration is a great explanation of the different aspects of math workshop. I found it helpful in thinking through how I might create meaningful work for my students when they are working on their own.

One of the main reasons I hadn’t tried math workshop in the past is because the idea of creating multiple center activities and directions for students every day seems so overwhelming. Not only that, but our students need consistency. Learning a new math game or trying a new activity every few days would be a disaster. What I like realized after reading various blogs is that consistency can be a part of math workshop, and thanks to our technology resources, it doesn’t need to require excessive material preparation.

Here’s a list of activities I’m planning to use for independent work to start off this year:
  • Multiplication fact fluency with Xtramath or multiplication partner game
  • Independent skill review and practice with IXL
  • Partner skill review and coaching with paper and pencil worksheets
  • Number work (building number sense with “number of the day” type activities)
  • Assessments including pretests, quick checks, and tests

Eventually, once we have the hang of the procedures and expectations of math workshop, my goal is to incorporate some online learning. A station rotation model of blended learning would work really well here. To create the online content, I’ll make my own teaching videos using a document camera (check out my Donor’s Choose grant to help make this possible!) and using Khan Academy materials.


This article from Math Tech Connections helped me to wrap my mind around various ways to organize our math workshop. It outlines three different ways to create groups and rotations-plus there’s free planning resources!

For our class, we will have two sections of whole-group time including daily math review and our daily mini lesson at the start of our math block. Then we will split into three main groups for our stations. During our stations, students will have about 15 minutes at each station.
  • Teacher Instruction: Focused and differentiated instruction will be provided for students related to each day’s whole group mini-lesson.
  • Independent Review: This will be mostly fact fluency for now. Eventually, it will become the online learning portion of our stations.
  • Partner Practice: Students practice recent skills with a partner for support and collaboration.

Workshop in Action

Today was our first day using the math workshop model. We taught our mini lesson and took some extra time to discuss our learning expectations during independent work time. This left about 40 minutes for instruction. Our students completed two or three stations today. We left the third station as optional for our early finishers.
Independent Work: students completed a pretest for an upcoming unit.
Skill Review (optional): students practiced math fact fluency online. 
Teacher Stations: students practiced rounding on a number line.

Winning with Workshop 

Let’s reconsider the problem of large groups. With this model, students would ideally get 15 minutes of differentiated teacher instruction in a small group of only about 5 students. FIVE! With 31 students, that’s 10 in each of the three groups. Since there are two teachers for the teacher instruction station, that’s about 5 with each teacher if we divide groups strictly by number of students. Does that seem amazing to you? Because it seems really amazing to me!

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