Whether you’re new to math work stations or a veteran, the beginning of the school year is a great time to revisit your work station process. Todd Whitaker (What Great Teachers Do Differently), says that your classroom can either be random or plandom. Which do you think you’d see in a great teacher’s classroom? Exactly.
Debbie Diller and Laney Sammons both stress the importance of setting expectations and teaching routines the first few weeks of school. The time you put into this exercise up front will pay off huge dividends throughout the year and will result in more effective work shop time. Combining the authors’ two lists, here are some routines and procedures you should develop as you plan for implementation. After all, you can’t teach routines and procedures to the kiddos if you haven’t decided what they will be!
- Workstation management, assignments, and locations (where will workstation boxes be kept? how will students know their workstation? where will they work?)
- Transitions (bell, signal, etc.)
- Proper care and use of materials; clean up procedures
- Working with a partner (taking turns, respectful conversation, settling differences, etc.)
- Noise levels
- Movement in the classroom during workshop (can students move around, or do they stay in their workstation area?)
- How to handle problems without disturbing the teacher
- What to do if you finish the activity before time is called
- Handling emergencies (what is considered an emergency? how should they be handled?)
All of these should be mini-lessons the first few weeks with LOTS of modeling and feedback. Because your main focus initially is establishing routines, you want to have some fairly simple work station activities ready to go. While you will have all your work station boxes loaded up the first day you practice work stations, all the boxes can have the same activity and all the groups can be doing the same thing. So you’re teaching a mini-lesson on a routine or procedure, introducing a simple work station activity, and then the kids get a chance to practice the work station routine and actually do the activity. They’re in workshop, but they’re all doing the same activity. Each day, you teach another mini-lesson, introduce another work station, and move into workshop–still all doing the same activity. You’re not pulling small groups to start with–your role is to reinforce the routines and expectations. Gradually, you will have different activities in the boxes and your workshop will be in full swing!
Again, focus on simple work station activities that don’t require a lot of preparation or materials. Here’s one such activity for place value. All you need is a recording sheet for each player, a number cube, and the I Can card. There are recording sheets for 3-, 4-, 6-, and 9-digitnumbers. Click here to grab your freebie.
Thank you for this post! I’m two weeks into school and attempting to do Guided Math in sixth grade middle school with five classes in rotation of 53 minute periods! I am overwhelmed so far with how to get started. I almost threw up my hands this week. I can see that I’m taking too big of a leap. Smaller chunks for both kids and me to digest!
By the way, your blog and your suggestions as a Math Coach are exemplary! I’ve taken some of your ideas and tweaking them for my sixth graders. I’d love to have YOU as my coach!
Aw, thanks, Val! I’m so glad the post helped, and I applaud your efforts to use guided math in middle school!! Yep, baby steps are definitely necessary, but you’ll get there! I’m assuming you have the Guided Math book, but her Strategies for Implementing binder is really useful. It’s a little pricey, but might save your sanity! Good luck!
OH WOW! I am so happy to find both your blog and this post! This is exactly what my day has been about. Looking into this before the start of school on September 4. I teach in a Hutterite School. They are ESL(german). I am the only staff at the school, 12 students from grade 1- grade 7. As the children grow older I will be their teacher until grade 9 when they finish school In Alberta where I live students may drop out with parents permission at 15.
This is my second year teaching. I had them working on center activities when I was giving each of the grade level lessons. My students are so far below where they should be for their grade level and the amount of 1:1 time they should have been getting for their entire school careers. Some days I am so very overwhelmed with how needy they are. Independence is a HUGE problem, some of that comes from not being English as a first language but some of it comes from past relationships with teachers… who would give them a workbook they couldn’t even read… and take a nap… seriously…
At the end of the year in, June, I took the last week and we did activities to Inspire Love for Math. All of the things I loved learning when I was in school, we did together. It was an amazing week. I want them to remember that when we move into the new year with a new plan and a more relaxed and organized teacher! Ty for your help already. I’ll be back and let you know how it goes.
I must remain anonymous because well…. I have to.
Your story is nothing short of amazing! Thank you for sharing, and I wish you the best of luck.
THANK YOU so much for this timely post!
I just found out yesterday that I’m doing a daily math pull-out session for 4 students – different grades (1st-3rd) & different IEP math goals & objectives! I’m definitely going to be relying on rotating stations (including a station of one-on-one with me) to make this work. This means I’m probably going to be making your blog my home page, haha 🙂 I just purchased a ton more of your products – I almost have everything from you now! They are incredibly easy to use & so thorough!
Aw, thanks for the sweet comments. It means a lot to me to know that my products and blog are helping you to reach your kiddos. Your new assignment sounds awesome! Such an important time in their lives for them to be getting the extra support they need. Keep me posted!
Starting school in 2 weeks, and this was just what I needed to get my mind into gear. Although I’ve taught for 22 years (and coached for 9) I found myself thinking…what to do…what to do…LOL. I will be teaching 5th grade math this year, new for me, and I plan to implement Math Workshop 3 days per week and stations 2 days per week so that I can do remediation with students who need it. Thinking through your questions made me realize that I am way too ambitious for my centers, and gave me a concrete plan for implementing them. I had the idea of having all the kids do 1 activity at a time, but not to put it in all 12 centers…thanks for that. One thing I may do differently, is to do 1 activity in all 12, a 2nd activity in all 12, and then a day where it is 6 of one and 6 of another with a 30 minute time on each. This would get them used to being able to work and transition as I plan to have them do when fully implemented. A 2nd thing I would like to do is add to the I can list…to extend the centers into decimals for example. I will have 27 gifted students split into 2 of my 3 classes. I want to encourage them to extend centers. So on the back of the I Can card, I’d like to add I can Extend. This is where we could discuss the extensions of the centers. Thanks for all your great ideas! It really keeps me thinking and growing.
I love it when one idea is a springboard for another! Thanks for taking the time to post such a useful comment. I love your differentiation piece!
I am so glad I read your post this morning! My team is meeting this afternoon to do some planning and math is going to be a major focus. I’m printing this post to take with me!
Still Teaching After All These Years
Talk about perfect timing! Don’t you love it when that happens? 🙂
This is going to be my 12th year teaching fourth grade. I am so happy to have found you! So many blogs seem to be focused on younger grades. I incorporated some math stations last year and I really enjoyed it. The kids did too since it allowed them to move around every 15 minutes or so. My biggest problem was arguing among the students. This made me really want to focus on cooperative learning this year. It was very eye-opening, because I learned that the students felt if they didn’t like a particular student, then they shouldn’t have to work with them. Preposterous! Any suggestions or ideas are gladly accepted! 🙂
It’s tough with the older kids, so I think the mini-lessons for teaching workshop behaviors at the beginning of the year are so, so important. You really have to spend 2-3 weeks focusing on how to ‘do’ workshop–modeling what you expect and constantly reinforcing the correct behaviors. A part of that is developing the expectations WITH the kids. I used an anchor chart listing what math workshop Looks Like and Sounds Like, and I developed it together with the class. I’ve also seen a third column for what it Feels Like. That might be important for 4th graders, when they’re at an age where it’s hard for them to get along. Keep fighting the good fight!
What are your suggestions for starting math work stations at the beginning of Kindergarten? Ideas of what to start with. Thanks, vicki
Debbie Diller does a great job covering that in her book, Vicki. It’s all about teaching the children how to “do” work stations and modeling, modeling, modeling. You won’t pull small groups for at least 6-9 weeks, because you really want the students to become independent learners before you can focus on teaching in a small group.
I am just starting to teach 6th grade math and would like to do stations, but not sure they work at this age level. Suggestions??
Absolutely! It definitely is not as commonly used in the upper grades, but it is still the most beneficial instructional format for meeting the needs of all students.
Can you give me an idea of where / how to start? Is there a book I should read?
There are links in the second paragraph to Debbie Diller’s and Laney Sammons’ books. Those are great places to start. Although Debbie Diller’s book is focused on K-2, she gives lots of information about setting up work stations. Laney Sammons has a whole series of books to support Guided Math. You can use the Look Inside feature at Amazon to preview them.