Question of the Day: How can we facilitate thoughtful and productive work time for math learners?
And here we have what I think has got to be the most difficult and most important part of math workshop! Work time is where we schedule these challenging tasks and differentiate learning.
Grouping has always been an issue for me since I teach small classes. We seem to have anywhere from 5-6 very low students and then 10-11 on level with only about 1-2 truly above level. My lows sometimes get pulled out as an intervention with the RTI specialist, so I've tended to put them together in the past. When I mix them up with the others, they totally let the others do the work, even when I give them a task.
This year we are thinking about taking those very low 8th graders and putting them together in one homeroom (there are 3- 8th grade homerooms with 12 students and they stay together for all of their classes) and this is something I keep going back and forth with. I have read all of the bad things about ability tracking, but I really think that we will do a good job of NOT lowering expectations for these students, but actually push them to achieve more. So anyway where I am going with this is that if we do go ahead with it, I will have no problem doing random groups all the time, or groups based on their preassessments. Now the 7th grade is a different story, there are only 2 homerooms with 18 in each. Not sure how that is going to work.
I think getting the students to actually WORK during this time is going to take a lot of practice and going over the expectations. I am going to begin the year by describing my Norms of the class and having the students create strategies and rules and I am hoping that this will help. I keep having these delusions that if I just come up with tasks that are challenging and engaging enough, they will just get to it! But I'm sure it is going to take a lot more work on my part!
Which leads into what the teacher is doing during this time: I cannot wait to get into the conferring section. I know from the How to Learn Math course, that giving good feedback is really essential for learning and students thinking about their ability to learn. There is also gathering data which we are required to do in my school anyway. We use a circle chart. It is a spreadsheet with the students names listed in the left column and the concepts we are teaching along the top row. We leave the box empty if students don't have any understanding, one line of a plus sign if they are beginning to get it and then a full plus if they got it.
I am getting really excited about planning everything for this school year using the workshop model!