Expectations and Accountability for Math Workshop

Written by Donna Boucher

Donna has been a teacher, math instructional coach, interventionist, and curriculum coordinator. A frequent speaker at state and national conferences, she shares her love for math with a worldwide audience through her website, Math Coach’s Corner. Donna is also the co-author of Guided Math Workshop.

As more teachers move to a workshop approach for math instruction, students spend increasing amounts of time working outside of the teacher’s direct supervision.  With instructional time at a premium, how do we make sure that time is productively spent?  Two words–expectations and accountability.  Students need to know exactly what to do and how to act in math workstations, and they need to know they will be held accountable for producing work, even when the teacher is not watching.  I was fortunate to see both pieces in place while visiting a wonderful 2nd grade classroom this week.

As I walked into the room, my eyes were immediately drawn to the colorful anchor charts on the teacher’s designated math wall.  One of the charts (I really need to start carrying a camera) listed what math workshop should look like and sound like. It was obvious this teacher had spent time thinking about her expectations for math workshop and had communicated them to her students.  The anchor chart alone would have been impressive, but she didn’t stop there.  As she finished her mini lesson, she asked the students to remind her what math workshop should look and sound like.  Notice how she asked them, instead of just repeating the expectations herself.  Several students raised their hands to offer comments, and not one of them turned around to look at the anchor chart to refresh their memory.  It seemed pretty clear that this was part of her routine, and I think that’s the part that’s often missing.  Teachers teach their expectations, but it’s a one shot deal.  Would you teach kids about odd and even numbers once and then never mention it again?  Of course not!  But that’s often what we do with expectations.  It’s no wonder, then, that frustration sets in when kids don’t remember how to act.

I think this teacher has also thought carefully about where her students are allowed to work during workshop.  Most of her kiddos were working independently or with  partners at desks.  Working on the floor vs. desks is a matter of personal preference, but from the kidney table where she was giving her small group instruction, she had every student in the classroom in her view.  The students working on workshop activities were on-task and engaged.  About now you might be saying, Oh sure, she must have the GOOD class!  She must not have any special friends like I do!  Um, no.  ‘Nuff said.

So that’s the expectations piece, but what about accountability?  I’m glad you asked!  At the end of workshop time, all students returned to their own desks and she asked them to lay out their work so she could sticker what they had finished during workshop.  It can be as simple as that.  Kids need to know that someone is going to look at what they do or, quite frankly, a lot of kids won’t do anything.  When we build in that simple accountability piece, students are sent the clear message that what they are working on is important.

The other part of accountability is that you have to have something to look at.  Math workstation activities are often games or explorations.  How do you generate a product from that?  One way, of course, is a recording sheet for the activity.  More and more, though, we’re asking kids to record their thoughts and work in their math journals.  It saves paper, keeps everything in one place, and it provides a sequential record of a student’s progress throughout the year.  Recording sheets can be glued into math journals as one option.  Another option I really like is Math Talk cards.  I first read about them in Debbie Diller’s book Math Work Stations, Independent Learning You Can Count OnShe introduced Math Talk cards as a way to generate mathematical conversations during math workshop, but they also help with both expectations and accountability. The cards give students clearly stated goals as they work on an activitiy.  The cards pictured below come from an activity called Odd Man Out that you can find in my TPT store.  Notice that the top two cards give students the words they need to frame their conversations about odd and even.  The bottom two cards are tasks that students could respond to in their math journals.

I challenge you to take a few minutes this weekend and reflect on how expectations and accountability look in your classroom.  Tinker with some of the ideas I’ve presented here, and you’ll see how a small change can make a big difference.

Robot Rules


  1. Joyce

    Everything you said makes perfect sense. I have only one question about the accountability piece – if a child has nothing to show you at the end of math class (that is they didn’t do what they were supposed to do), what is the next step? And what is the “proof”, if you will, that they didn’t just write anything down to make it look like they did something?
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Donna Boucher

      Great question, Joyce! It first becomes a conversation with the child, making sure he/she clearly understands the expectations and questioning why nothing was written down. If the behavior continues, I would let the student know that Math Workshop is a privilege, and that he/she might have to get his practice using worksheets rather than fun workshop activities! As far as proof, you want to take a close enough look at the work to be sure that it is reasonable for the task they were doing, especially at the beginning when you’re establishing routines.


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