About Anthony Lawson

I earned my masters degree from George Mason University in Educational Leadership before leaving the classroom to become an instructional coach and eventually an Assistant Principal in Washington, DC. It is there where I forged my philosophy of education from my various experiences teaching and leading and transformed my school into one of the highest performing schools in the district . I am now excited to call Colorado my new home

We have all heard of various writing workshop models. Students working diligently on various stages of the writing process: pre-writing, drafting, revising, proofreading and publishing. But how can we incorporate similar structures in the math classroom? To some, this may not be new. Various levels of the math workshop model do exist and so I am by no means pretending that I have created this idea. However, what I have been able to do is adapt various parts of the workshop model into a functioning classroom model that incorporates data collection, differentiation, and classroom management. However, the various structures of the workshop model remain relatively consistent: opening, work-time period, and closing.

But how can we incorporate similar structures in the math classroom? Click To Tweet
Let’s begin with the opening. For purposes of this article, I will assume that the math block is 60-minutes long. The opening should generally last no longer than 10-15 minutes. Using end-in-mind design, the opening of the mathematical workshop model incorporates explicitly telling the students what it is they are to be able to do by the end of the lesson. This is a whole group, teacher-led instruction. If a specific strategy is being taught, this is when it is happening. An anchor chart can be created for students to use as a resource. If manipulatives are being used to get a point across, this is when that is happening. Students can take notes, they can add pieces to their interactive notebook, or they can just listen. This design does not dictate exactly what must be done, but rather whatever works best for you. The point of the opening is that it limits the teacher-led whole group discussion to simply 10 minutes. Any experienced math teacher will tell you that student discourse, student practice, and student-led learning is imperative.

This is where we get to the 30-minute work-time period. Generally, this is broken down further into two 15-minute periods. The first 15-minute period is what I like to call “struggle time.” As I have explained to other educators that simply do not like the term “struggle,” this is the time where students are working independently without assistance from their peers or me. While working through these problems, the “aha” moment that they get alone is more powerful than any teaching that I can do. This is when students learn to use their notes or review that anchor chart you created at the opening of the lesson. I generally self-create my assignments and limit them to 5-10 word problems. This is where the differentiation comes in. You may want to make various worksheets, but I like to create one assignment where the questions get increasingly more rigorous. That way, students do not wonder why they got one exercise while another student got a different one.

I know what I expect each of my students to be able to do, so depending on where they finish will tell my a lot about where they are with this particular task. This is also my opportunity as a teacher to collect data. I am looking for student misconceptions, I am taking anecdotal notes, or I am using a progress-monitoring checklist to see who understands and who does not. This time can also be modified for students with IEPs or other students who simply do not yet have the stamina to work independently this long. Typically, I have a peer buddy that they will work with if they appear unable to make the 15-minutes. Nonetheless, this is valuable data that is used during the second 15-minute period-collaborative group time.

Collaborative group time is  where students are using ‘accountable talk strategies’ to engage in student discourse of the work they were just doing. They go through each problem, explain how they got their answer, justify their response, and write down any questions they all still have for me later. While students are engaging in this discourse, I now have the opportunity to pull students for either individual conferencing or small group instruction. I know whom to pull from the data I just collected during “struggle time” or from any previous data collection. I may pull students who were struggling with previously taught topics, or even pull my advanced learners for some accelerated activities.

Finally, we come to the closing of the lesson. In a 60-minute block, this is now about 10-15 minutes long. Using my data collection tool, I will call a student to the board to explain how they solved a specific problem. I may call this student because they have mastered the taught strategy. I may call a student because they used a different strategy that was also successful. I may also pull a student who is struggling to see if the class can help correct their misconceptions in a way that maybe I could not. This kid-friendly conversation is very powerful and another informal assessment tool to gauge a student’s level of mathematical vocabulary and appropriate strategy use. I usually leave about 5 minutes at the end of the lesson to recap. I will ask the students if we met the objective of the lesson. I may also use this time to correct any common errors I noticed during student struggle time. Homework is given and the lesson is closed.

I have found this structure to be very beneficial regardless of the level of math I have taught. Students know what to expect and this structure makes for a smoother run class. But where is the classroom management piece I promised? One, the structure itself tends to minimize student behaviors, as again, students know what to expect every day. They know they are expected to work quietly for no more than 15-minutes and will be given an opportunity to share out. However, I have also incorporated a few other tools to support classroom behaviors during the workshop model.

If you have a document camera, make a list of every student’s name on a spreadsheet and put it on display. During the workshop, take the time to put check marks next to each student’s name that is doing what he or she is supposed to do. Five check marks gets them 5 points just for the lesson (or any other incentive you have to offer). No check marks equals no incentives (not a consequence). Say you have a more tech-savvy classroom like I do. A great tool I have used is ClassDojo available here  . It is also a free app for your iPad.

You can either connect your laptop to your Smartboard (or projector to display) or use your Apple TV to mirror the app through your iPad (my preferred method). Again, as students participate, use appropriate math vocabulary and accountable talk, you give them points that display on ClassDojo. It may take a few days for the stigma of ClassDojo to die down (kids love to see their points earned), but give it a shot. At the end of the lesson, points can equal incentives.

Feel free to adapt this model to the needs of your students and let me know what you found to work, not work, and any adaptions that helped make it successful. Now, what do you in your Math classroom to collect data, differentiate and control classroom management?

Copy of Making it Interesting- 5 Easy Ways to Differentiate Processes (1)

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