A few years ago I remember my school district emphasizing the need to use more of a math workshop approach in the elementary classrooms. The school district even invited a math workshop specialist to present on all the different ways to set up groups and organize guided math. Some of the teachers gleaned the information and used parts of the model in their own classroom. The consensus was that some of the guided math approach was better than none at all.
As the years passed the idea of math workshop started to change. Teachers started to change the math instruction block to incorporate small group instruction. Whole group instruction still occurred, just in shorter bursts. The small groups consisted of around 5-6 students and rotated every 10 – 15 minutes. The groups didn’t meet everyday – that’s almost impossible. I remember barely making it through two rotations 2-3 times per week. The organization involved seemed overwhelming, but doable. This workshop model was modified depending on how the teacher organized their math class. After a couple of years the district changed it’s focus to emphasize reading instruction. One small part of the reading instruction is designed for students to share their understanding with others. After hearing about this type of model I decided to merge this type of model within my math classroom.
As the district changed its initiatives my math model also started to change. Instead of fully devoting time to small group math practice, I decided to incorporate a math discussion within the teacher group for a portion of the time. Half of the time in the small group was used to work on direct problems associated with a standard, while the other time was set aside to discuss the math concept in detail. Over time the conversation started to eat up a larger potion of my small group time. This discussion component ended up becoming more formal after I found the conversations started to impact students’ understanding of math. The questions that I asked were often related to vocabulary or about a particular strategy that was used to find a solution. Students were given opportunities to answer the question and ask each other questions in the process. For the most part students were on task, but I’d have to reign in or rephrase responses as needed. I also found myself planning questions to intentionally ask during the small group time. I had to use some type of timer system to rotate groups at the right time. Most of all I felt like students were able to offer their input in a low-risk environment and discuss math while receiving some type of feedback from everyone involved. Also, students were starting to use some of our more formal math conversations in their written explanations. What I’m finding is that I need to be more intentional in creating opportunities for these classroom conversations to happen. They seem to open up additional learning opportunities that were closed off before. I feel as though slowing down the pace and delving deeper into math concepts has brought about this opportunity
Side note: I’ve also used this strategy with a whole-class discussion. Although it’s benefiting students I need to refine the logistics of using this strategy for the entire class. Also, I’ve experimented with Math Talks this year – definitely something that I want to explore a bit more in the next few months.