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Planning Math Workstations

“…workstations are most successful when teachers give careful attention to the composition of their student groups, the mathematics content of the workstation tasks, and the types of math tasks students are expected to complete.” (Sammons/Boucher, p 59)

So far in our book study of Guided Math Workshop, we’ve been planning the menu and setting the table. This week, we get into the meat and potatoes! You can catch up by using the links in the Reading Schedule below. Jump in anytime!

This post contains affiliate links, which simply means that when you use my link and purchase a product, I receive a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, and I only link to books and products that I personally use and recommend.

Reading schedule

Join the slow Twitter chat

Wow! So much great interaction on the Twitter chat. If you don’t have colleagues in your building who are implementing Guided Math, or coaches in your district or on your campus to assist with implementation, Twitter can be a great source of support and inspiration. Be sure to check it out!

To join in the slow Twitter chat, type the hashtag #GMWorkshopTCM in the search box–look for the magnifying class in the top right hand corner by your profile picture (see the picture below). It is not case sensitive, but people often use upper and lower case letters for hashtags to make them easier to read. After you have searched on the hashtag once, it will be listed in your Recent Searches, so you won’t really need to type it again.

Once you are “in” the hashtag, click on Latest (top left hand corner–see picture below) to see all of the tweets, with the most recent listed first.

Scroll through to read what others have posted, reply to others, tweet your thoughts, or even pose your own questions. Remember to include the hashtag #GMWorkshopTCM in your tweets and replies, or they won’t show up in the feed.

Chapter 4, Planning Math Workstations

  1. How should I group students during Math Workshop?
  2. What kinds of tasks should I include in Math Workstations?
  3. How can I incorporate the use of digital devices into Math Workshop?

After reading and studying the first three chapters, do you have a strong vision about how Math Workshop will look in your classroom? Have you jotted notes, made lists, and talked to colleagues? I can’t overemphasize the importance of planning as you get started. In a chapter aptly titled Random or Plandom? in the bestselling book What Great Teachers Do Differently, Todd Whitaker says this:

“One hallmark of great teachers is that in their classroom, very little happens at random. Great teachers have a plan and purpose for everything they do. If things don’t work out the way they had envisioned, they reflect on what they could have done differently and adjust their plans accordingly.”  

First, let’s talk about student grouping, a task that requires a great deal of thought and planning. Part of my teaching philosophy is that all students should have the ability to work in mixed ability groups. I would not feel comfortable using a structure that did not allow that to happen on a regular basis. That said, I also strongly believe that students need targeted instruction at their own level. In other words, I need a structure that allows for both heterogeneous (mixed) groups and homogeneous (same level) groups. That is one reason why the GUIDE structure is the best one for me. Each day during Math Workshop, students work at one of five workstations (G, U, I, D,  or E) in heterogeneous groups. I have the flexibility to pull small, targeted homogeneous groups from whichever workstation students happen to be in. So I might call one student from the G workstation, another from I, two from E, and so forth. After my small group lesson, students go back to their workstation and pick up where they left off. With GUIDE, I’m not locked in to a certain amount of time to work with each small group, as I found I was using a rotation model. Some groups may only need 5-10 minutes while others need extended time. Since students are flowing in and out of Workstations, the teacher has total flexibility.

Figure 4.1 on page 60 is a great resource for the Dos and Don’ts of forming workstation groups. You need to carefully consider and balance ability levels, work habits, talkative students vs. quiet ones, personalities, and student relationships. As an Instructional Coach, I saw teachers who sabotaged their own best efforts by not being strategic about forming groups. Plan to change your groups every month, but don’t hesitate to tweak the groups if the composition is not quite right. Remember, these are your Workstation groups, not the groups you are pulling for small group instruction. Your small group instruction groups will constantly change based on student need.

Next, you will need to start looking for tasks for your workstations. The book provides some sample tasks, and Laney and I recently published three grade-banded books (K-23-5, and 6-8) with additional tasks. Luckily, there are a wealth of tasks available to teachers from educational blogs, social media, and online teacher marketplaces. You may already have resources on your campus that you can adapt for use in workstations. As you begin the year, talk to teachers from the previous grade level to see if they can share tasks with you that the students are already familiar with. Gradually add to your bank of tasks throughout the year, and before you know it, you’ll have a great collection of quality tasks. As your collection grows, however, think about how you will store and organize your tasks to make planning easier.

Because there are now so many resources readily available, it’s your responsibility to properly vet the available resources to determine which ones will provide quality mathematical experiences for your students. I summarized the details from the book into a visual you can use as a guideline for choosing tasks. Download a copy and hang it in your planning room or tape it in your planning book!

Finally, Math Workshop is a wonderful way to put your digital devices to good use. In the math classroom, digital devices are most often used to provide practice in an engaging format. There are a large number of free or nearly free apps available. We need to think beyond the practice apps, however, to truly exploit the power of of digital devices. The audio and video capabilities allow devices to be used to support non-readers in workstations or for students to record their mathematical conversations. Students can write and publish math-related posts for a class blog or can use web tools to create products showcasing their mathematical thinking. The camera feature can be used to snap pictures of math in the real world or to document the results of a workstation game before the laminated board is erased. Think outside the box and be sure to share your ideas by commenting on this post or tweeting!

Here are the slow Twitter chat questions I will post this week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Just search on the hashtag #GMWorkshopTCM throughout the week to see the questions, read comments, and add your responses. We will use the Q and A format. For example, to respond to Q10, start your response with A10. Don’t forget to add the hashtag #GMWorkshopTCM to your tweet and all replies to tweets. If you don’t, it won’t show up in the feed for the chat.

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One Comment

  1. I’m a relatively new 2nd grade math teacher (this is my 3rd year and we are departmentalized). I have 120 minutes of math time. I’m trying to wrap my head around how to use this time most productively. I know I want to do guided math, but I need some guidance myself!?? I’d appreciate any and all suggestions!

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