The first question I am often asked related to Math Workshop is How do I hold the students accountable? I’m going to be brutally honest: holding your students accountable for the work they do in their workstations can make or break the success of a guided math approach. This post about accountability and assessment is the third in a series of three. If you have not read the other two, I suggest you take a few minutes to do that now. Check out the first post about structuring Math Workshop here and the second post about aligning your tasks to the standards here.

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Set, teach, and reinforce your expectations

Accountability starts with the students having a clear understanding of what you expect of them. As you plan for implementation, you need to carefully think through your routines and procedures. During the first few weeks of the school year, you will teach your routines and procedures, so you need to plan for what you are teaching.The more you plan, the better your classroom will function. In his book What Great Teachers Do DifferentlyTodd Whitaker says that everything that takes place in your classroom is either plandom or random. In other words, if you don’t plan for it, your kiddos will randomly decide what to do in any given situation. Even the subtle difference of using the term math workstations rather than centers sends the message that this is their work. Yes, we want them to enjoy the tasks and games, but at the end of the day, this is their math work. A great activity to do during the first few weeks is to create an anchor chart like the one below that will serve as a visual remind of what Math Workshop should look and sound like and what the student’s and teacher’s jobs are.

Build It Into Your Room Arrangement

When you decide where to put your small group table, remember that if the students know you can see them, that is your first line of accountability. Many teachers like to do their small group instruction on the floor, but that makes it really difficult to see what’s going on in the rest of the room, and the kids know it. My favorite arrangement for small group instruction is a horseshoe-shaped table in a corner where I am facing out into the room. As I’m teaching my small group lesson, I just need to glance up and around the room every few minutes, and the students know that I’m keeping an eye on them.

Utilize Math Journals

A math journal in my room is nothing fancy. It’s a composition notebook or a 25 cent spiral notebook. I’ll probably put a cute label on the front or let the kiddos decorate it. Because I don’t like to worry about which workstations students will need their journals, it is the routine that students just carry their journal to every workstation. That way, they’ll have it if they need it. The next step is to build accountability into each task. For example, the picture below shows how students might be held accountable for playing a game of Multiplication War. Each player takes two playing cards and multiplies the factors. The largest product wins the cards. To add a little accountability, the players would just write the results of each hand in their journals, as shown.

The students, however, need to know that you’re going to look at their work. I, for one, don’t want to haul 22 journals home every night or weekend. Here’s an alternative. Each day, at the end of workshop, have students return to their desks and place their journals out and open to the work they did. You might spend 5 minutes having students take turns sitting in the “Mathematician’s Chair”, sharing something they learned during workshop. During that 5 minutes, you can spin around the room glancing briefly at each journal. You are NOT looking at every line item. You are checking for quantity and quality. First, did students get enough accomplished? If not, you can have a private conversation immediately and explain that you expect them to get more done. Next, you are looking for glaring errors. In the Multiplication War example, if I saw a student who reversed his greater than/less than symbol for every single problem, I would pull that student first thing the next day to correct his misconception.

Go High Tech

If you are fortunate enough to have technology in your classroom, you really want to check out Seesaw. It is absolutely free and can be used by students to create a digital portfolio. Take a minute to watch this intro video.


Do you see that when you build accountability into your workstations, you are also gathering the data you need for assessment? When it comes to accountability and assessment, they go hand in hand. Think about how to frame your accountability to give you information on the skill students are practicing in the workstation. Take, for example, the place value game Build the Biggest. Having the students glue their recording sheet in their math journal would show that they played the game, but would it really show that they know how to use place value to compare numbers? No, not really. So in addition to gluing the recording sheet into their journal, consider having them explain, in writing, how to use place value to compare the numbers 398 and 412. See how that gives you more insight into the actual skill?

What questions do you still have about accountability and assessment? Please add them in the comments.

See you on Twitter! @MathCoachCorner

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