I’m not even sure if they call it math workshop in New Zealand, but let’s just go with that. I observed a structure in my daughter’s Wellington school that allowed students to self-assess, determine their own schedule, attend targeted workshops, complete work on their own schedule, reflect on their learning, and learn from other students. Within this structure is a level of student ownership and autonomy I’ve always wanted in my classes. When I returned home, I spent the summer trying to figure out how to make it work. Here are the main components as I see them.
A sample weekly workshop schedule
The workshop structure is driven by assessment—formative and summative. Each unit of study begins with a pre-assessment that is similar to the formal summative assessment. Students analyze their performance on the pretest, then use it to determine their needs throughout the unit. For example, a student may be able to multiply negative numbers with help from another student, but needs a workshop to understand how to subtract. Another student might need teacher-led workshops for both concepts.
Daily formative assessment determines gaps in understanding, and allow teachers to offer feedback.
The quick 10 is a set of problems to complete at the beginning of each class. I use a combination of random number multiplication tables and problems from Minute Math. These are relatively easy, but help students remember important ideas and vocabulary.
Workshops are teacher-led. They are short—about 25 minutes, and they are targeted toward the needs of a small group.
Consolidation consists of activities in which the students practice relevant skills. Students mostly work independently during this time. Before I started teaching workshop, consolidation came in the form of homework assignments. Under the workshop structure, there is no homework. Students are expected to complete the work in class where they have time, space, and support to practice the new material.
In rally coaching, students work in pairs to practice mathematical processes and concepts. Students usually choose their own partners, but are encouraged to select a partner that will both support and challenge them.
During the last five minutes of each class period, students write a reflection. They record any new learning, struggles, or thoughts from the day’s work. I collect their notebooks every day, read the reflections, and give feedback.
There are certainly challenges with math workshop. Creating and adhering to a schedule is not my strong suit. Additionally, I have frequent conversations with my seventh graders about how to manage time, work independently, and make good choices. Still, the students are responding well to their new autonomy and responsibility. They are logging more practice time than ever before, and can explain processes and concepts to their peers. I can differentiate more effectively and work more closely with individuals. Students remain engaged throughout tour 90-minute periods. Under this structure, they are social and active, yet productive.