Since my first year teaching I’ve loved teaching through reading workshop and writing workshop, but I never saw a way to transfer that method of teaching to math. However, I wasn’t too worried about it, because my students appeared to be learning and my test scores looked good.
Fast forward three years later and my state (Georgia) has just adopted new math standards that were much more rigorous and had a much greater emphasis on conceptual understanding and multiple representations of math. Then, bring in a new district initiative for all teachers to implement math workshop and an “expert” in math workshop. At first I resisted the change, I was happy with the way things were and really didn’t believe that the workshop approach would work. However, I soon began see the light. Yes, my students were good at basic skills and what I now call naked math (computation without any context), but was I teaching problem solving, conceptual understanding, and application of skills? Did I teach my students to think, talk, and write about math? Could they show their reasoning with multiple representations? Did math math lessons have a real world application? The answer to all of the above was-no. I knew I had to make the change. Fast forward 5 more years-I’m now a huge fan of math workshop and wouldn’t want to teach any other way. I admit that it was a difficult process with a lot of trial and error for me, but I finally feel confident in this form of instruction. My math workshop follows a similar format to reading and writing workshop, with a few changes here and there.
Mini-Lesson-My mini lessons are usually about 10 minutes long, and I do a variety of activities during this time. I might review previous skills or introduce new skills and vocabulary. Some days I’ll read a picture book that relates to the concept we’re studying or we might play a quick whole group game such as ‘I Have Who Has’. I’m slowly creating and finding Smartboard lessons for this time as well (I just got one in January). I also use this time to model, model, model my expectations for routines, behavior, and quality of work.
Work Time-This is when students actually do the math through a variety of math tasks, and I personally believe that the tasks are the heart of math workshop. Good workshop tasks require students to problem solve and apply what they have learned. They also require students to think outside the box and to use multiple representations and accountable talk. I like to have all of my students work on the same basic task, but I differentiate the task for my different ability levels. For example if we are doing a place value sort, I may have the majority of my students working through the ten-thousands place, but one group may only have cards through the hundreds place, and another group may have cards through the hundred-thousands place. As I mentioned in previous posts I am going to try to incorporate work stations 2 days a week this year. I want to make the change to add a little more spice and variety to my day.
My favorite way to group students for math workshop is to group my very highest students together for their own group, which is not always a popular practice. I found that they did not relate well with my other students and made much larger gains when working with students with a similar ability, and it made it much easier to differentiate. I then have mixed ability groups for the remaining students, and I was surprised to find that new leaders emerge in those groups. During work time students can work with groups, partners, or individually, and the I monitor the class, work with small groups, or meet with individual students.
Closing-This is the time for students to share what they learned, struggled with, or would like to learn more about. They should share HOW they completed their task and allow other students to ask questions and make comments. It is important to focus on the process rather than only if the student got the answer right (which of course is important too). I have learned that I have to have some questions prepared in advance for this time, because the questions asked should promote a deeper thinking and understanding of the concept. It is also important that I clear up any misunderstandings or misconceptions during this time.
It took a while but I finally feel very comfortable with math workshop, and I actually couldn’t imagine teaching any other way! I enjoy working with other teachers to help them implement math workshop in their own classrooms, and I hope to help make the transition much easier for others. When teaching with math workshop my students are engaged and on task, because they too begin to love math. With math workshop, students are able to have meaningful conversations about math and discuss strategies with each other. In this format, teachers can provide extra support to students who need the extra help and can easily challenge those who need to be enriched. I’ve recently listed The Math Workshop Guide to my TpT store, and it includes more than 100 pages that describe and give directions for effectively implementing math workshop in an elementary classroom. This guide explains how to organize your classroom for math workshop, and how to begin math workshop each year. You’ll learn how to form flexible small groups, manage math work stations, and plan for the year. It also explains the parts of math workshop, math workshop resources, self-assessment forms, manipulative labels, and Common Core Standards checklists for math!