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Do This, Not That: Aligning to Standards

As students spend increasingly more time engaged in independent math workshop tasks, it’s essential that we align those tasks to our content standards and math process standards. This post is the second in a series of three. Check out the first post here, and there is a link to the last post in the series at the end of this post.

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Workstations are always standards-based

There are so many resources available to teachers these days. It’s so tempting to hit up Pinterest or Teachers Pay Teachers for a cute and engaging activity. But the cardinal rule of workstation tasks is that each one should be aligned to a standard that your students need to work on. Period. Your data should guide your choices. What standards are your students struggling with? What do they need more practice with? Consider creating a correlation chart for your workstations listing the title, skill, and standard. While that might seem a daunting task, it will save you time in the long run.

Provide practice for skills students are already confident in

Teachers often tell me that all workstation tasks should be related to the current skill being taught. For example, if I am teaching place value right now, all the tasks must be related to place value. Let’s look at where that idea came from. In a traditional classroom, the whole group lesson is often followed by independent practice based on the lesson. As teachers move to a guided math format, that becomes part of their new structure.  But the last thing I want students to do is to practice a skill incorrectly, so consider breaking that cycle of teach/practice.  Place your practice tasks into workstations once you are certain students truly understand the concept. For example, students might practice whatever I’m teaching this week next week, after I’ve worked with them in small group enough to know that they are confident with the skill.

Spiral skills throughout the year

If you’re not filling all workstations with tasks related to the current skill, what will you fill them with? Math workstation tasks provide a great vehicle to spiral learning throughout the year. For example, that place value game you use in September could be used several more times throughout the year to make sure that the learning on that important skill becomes permanent. Consider beginning the year with tasks students are already familiar with from the previous grade level to activate their learning and create a smooth transition between grade levels. You can also use workstation tasks to “spiral backward.” If you have concepts at the end of the year, you can sprinkle workstation tasks throughout the year to activate prior knowledge. A good example of this is geometry, which often falls toward the end of the year. By utilizing tasks related to geometry vocabulary throughout the year, you can keep students interacting with those concepts.


Choose a mathematical focus for each workstation

As I mentioned in the previous post in this series, the easiest way to make sure you address the math process standards in your workstations is to build them into your structure. Both of the structures shown below have workstations devoted to problem solving and mathematical communications. As you plan your workstations, you are consciously looking for high-quality tasks to populate those workstations.

Your next step is to develop a suite of high-yield tasks that you can rotate through those stations. One of my favorites for the problem-solving station is You Write the Story. Instead of solving pages of word problems, students write their own word problems and solve them. Prep for this task is as easy as writing the expressions for students to use on index cards and putting them in the workstation. Notice how easily differentiated this task is. You see three versions of the same expression below. The top is the on-level version, the middle is for students who might struggle with the on-level numbers, and the bottom version is for students who wouldn’t be challenged by writing a simply multiplication word problem. Since your focus is on the writing process, use friendly numbers for your expressions. Can you see how this could be part of your task rotation all year long?

Another task closely related to this one is The Answer Is. This one is even more open-ended, because students can use any operation they want. Totally self-differentiating.

How about one more to get you started. For this one, use the Snip & Sketch Tool to grab a picture of a graph. Released state tests are a great source of graphs. Be sure to leave off any questions related to the graph. Students either write statements about the graph (e.g., Walking was the exercise with the most minutes) or questions that can be answered using the graph (e.g., How many more minutes were spent doing aerobics and rowing than were spent jogging?). Again, you can see that this task is self-differentiating because students will write more or less complex statements and questions.

Hopefully, these three examples give you an idea of the types of tasks you can put in the problem-solving workstation.

Choose games that involve strategy

It’s no secret that students love games! As you are choosing games for your workstations, look for those that involve strategy. They not only make the game more interesting for students, but they incorporate problem-solving and analytical thinking as well. As students play the game, their strategy often evolves. And it should! In fact, having students reflect on their strategy and how it changed as they continued playing the game in their Math Journal is a great way to build accountability into the workstation. Read more about a couple of quick and engaging games using only a blank hundred chart here.

Use technology to create, not just consume

Often, the only way we use technology in our math workstations is for apps or computer-based learning. While those are both valid uses of technology, we want to look for ways to allow students to use technology to create, rather than just consume. Apps like Seesaw, Chatterpix, and Buncee allow students to communicate mathematically in an engaging and creative way.

I hope you find these tips for incorporating the math process standards and content standards into your math workstations helpful. If you have other suggestions, I hope you’ll leave a comment below and share! The last post in this series is on accountability.

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    1. They are practicing with you until you are confident that they are successful with the skill. Then they can practice in workstations–possibly the week after you have taught it.

  1. I am excited to read your article on accountability! This is one of the main aspect of workshop I want to work on this year. Thank you for all of your amazing insight!

  2. Would the children do the accompanying workbook pages to that days lesson with the teacher that day or begin independently at a station and bring it with them to the ratchet station? Or what is your opinion on this?

    1. If you are required to assign the workbook pages, then I would have the students complete them only after they have worked with you enough in small group for you to know they will complete them correctly. If you have flexibility about the workbook pages, you can often find workstation tasks that help students practice the same skills, but in a more rigorous and engaging way.

  3. Hi Donna!

    Thank you for breaking this down the way you did! I will be a first year teacher soon and the one thing that I know I, and a lot of my classmates struggle with is the idea of trying to align everything while still making it fun and engaging for our students. Your blog is incredibly helpful and alleviates some of that fear that we have!

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