Friday, August 5, 2016

How to Use a Math Workshop and the 5 Reasons Guided Math is Best for Your Students

Learn how to instantly improve your math instruction and increase student learning by using a math workshop with guided math in your elementary classroom.

There is no denying that children have changed over the years. Attention spans are shorter and more and more children struggle to sit and focus on traditional teacher-directed lessons.  Simultaneously, the demands on educators are greater than ever before. As new requirements are introduced, the time teachers used to have for planning and modifying lessons has been minimized.

This poses two main problems. 

The first is the most important one. Regardless of their ability level, kids are not reaching their potential. Struggling learners are being pushed along to the next unit without demonstrating proficiency in the current skill. Some aren’t building the solid foundation necessary for the higher level math skills in the future. Advanced students are not being challenged and are wasting their days doing worksheets and activities focused on skills they’ve already mastered.

The second is that the current data-driven state of education unfortunately could mean that everything from your job security and pay scale to student placement and qualification for services hinges upon test scores. Admittedly I loath testing for many reasons, but it is what it is and we need to find ways for our students to succeed not only in the real world, but also when it comes time for their annual performance with a number two pencil and a bubble sheet.

So now that we’ve identified the problems, let’s focus on the solution.

And the good news is there is a solution.

Learn how to instantly improve your math instruction and increase student learning by using a math workshop with guided math in your elementary classroom.

Several years ago I found myself really struggling to get through the math lessons in the district-mandated curriculum. The teacher text outlined lengthy group lessons followed by practice worksheets. The kids were always so distracted during the instruction and it never went the way the teacher guide said it would. Then I would distribute the worksheets that were included for that lesson. Some kids buzzed through them because they were already proficient in the skill. Other kids had no idea what to do because they had been off task during the lengthy lesson (and the previous days lesson…and the day before that…etc). Then I would send home the related homework page and would need to field phone calls, emails and notes from parents about the frustration it caused at home.

I knew things needed to change. I also knew that my reader’s workshop was the going VERY well. I knew where my kids were at as readers and as a result of one on one conferencing and small group instruction I was confidently meeting their individual needs.

I analyzed what was working in that academic area and decided to apply it to my math block. At that time (way back in 2009) “guided math” was not the buzzword it is now and I needed to muddle through with some trial and error. As a result I created a math rotation system that allowed my students to be actively engaged in developmentally appropriate activities at all times.  

Each math lesson began with a “mini-lesson.” This was taught whole class and was brief. It was meant to activate their brains and get them thinking about math. When I first began using this model the mini lesson  was often based on a portion of lesson in the teacher guide. I always did my best to make it interactive and would encourage whole class participation by asking students to all respond in a nonverbal way with hand signals or to have quick discussions with their “talking partner” (as part of my classroom management procedures and routines the students had assigned seats in the group area and a designated ‘turn and talk’ buddy…you can read more about how all aspects of my classroom management here). As time (and technology) progressed the mini lesson typically included a short brain pop video, a power point lesson, or an interactive activity on the Smartboard. The students were still all required to participate and talk with peers. At the end of the mini-lesson I would present the learning goal for the day and ask the essential question to frame our thinking.

Following the mini lesson, the rotations would begin. I like systems and routines and I also like things that are catchy. Therefore I developed a system for the students to rotate through a series of four stations using the acronym M.A.T.H.

Learn how to instantly improve your math instruction and increase student learning by using a math workshop with guided math in your elementary classroom.

Learn how to instantly improve your math instruction and increase student learning by using a math workshop with guided math in your elementary classroom.M = Math Facts 
The M stands for math facts. It was where they would practice fact fluency skills. It could be mad minute pages, flash cards, online programs, dice games with a partner, memory match with facts or anything else that had them continuing to work on the automaticity of facts needed for higher level math concepts.

Learn how to instantly improve your math instruction and increase student learning by using a math workshop with guided math in your elementary classroom.A = At Your Seat Work (Independent Practice)
The A stands for At Your Seat. This is the station where they complete paper and pencil tasks. This is also where they work independently. It’s a good option if you are required to work in worksheets from your curriculum. I used any of the spiral review math pages that had not been used for homework in this area. It was also a great station for working with review task cards. I also used this station for math vocabulary activities, number of the day and math journals. Because the expectation of this station was quiet, independent work, it prevents the room from getting too noisy. The students had the option of working at desks or around the classroom using clipboards.

Learn how to instantly improve your math instruction and increase student learning by using a math workshop with guided math in your elementary classroom.T = Teacher's Choice (or Technology)
The T originally stood for “Teacher,” but I changed it to “Teacher’s Choice.” On most days the students in this station could be seen sitting with my at the small group table working on a guided math lesson. However, I learned there were days where my attention was needed in a different area of the classroom and I liked having the flexibility to assign an activity to the kids in this station so I was free to assist where needed. There were also days when I would say “Today the T will stand for Technology because as Teacher’s Choice I am going to have you work on iPads.”

Learn how to instantly improve your math instruction and increase student learning by using a math workshop with guided math in your elementary classroom.H = Hands On Activities
The H Stands for “Hands-On.” In this station kids use manipulatives, do performance based projects, play games, etc. Basically it is anything that is not a paper and pencil task and involves manipulating objects. Typically these were done with partners. To keep the noise level down I found it helpful to assign areas around the classroom for them to work instead of clustered in one area.

We closed out each math workshop with a closing meeting. Students would share with their talking partner what they did during the workshop. Some would share work samples. We revisited the essential question and discussed what we learned. There was always a verbal or written exit slip to wrap up the experience.

Also, I stopped giving the curriculum worksheets (that were often confusing and parents weren’t able to help as they were not privy to the lessons that related) and started sending home a spiral review page nightly. This was purposeful, parents could assist and it constantly 

It changed everything for the better. My planning became streamlined. My students were able to move around and were never expected to sit for any lengths of time.

Guided math is similar to guided reading. The teacher places the students into small, flexible groups and delivers differentiated instruction to meet their individual needs. Often these groups are based on ability. Sometimes they are based on interests. Other times they are created strategically so students can learn from one another.

Learn how to instantly improve your math instruction and increase student learning by using a math workshop with guided math in your elementary classroom.
  • Guided math allows you to meet children at their current ability level and work with them in the zone of proximal development. Students who need interventions and remediation received them and students who have mastered the grade level skill can be enriched, challenged and taken to their potential at the next level.
  • Guided math enables you to incorporate the mathematical practices. New standards require students to think deeply. Kids should be not only be showing their thinking on paper, but also explaining and discussing their thinking with peers and adults.
  • In a small guided math group, all your learners can ask and answer questions. Children perform differently in a small group setting. Not only are there children who struggle to focus in a whole class learning situation, but there are also children are too shy or anxious to speak up in a group. There are also children who would share in a class discussion, but are unable to because stronger personalities take over.
  • Teachers gain clarity on each child’s strengths and weaknesses. Watching them work through problems and listening to their questions and explanations enables the teacher to correct misconceptions in real time. When a child performs a paper and pencil task incorrectly he may do so multiple times on the same paper and misunderstanding then becomes committed to memory.
  • It makes your job as a teacher easier. You will save time planning and correcting because you are not scripting lessons and spending hours correcting worksheets. You are assessing the children as you listen and observe. Your teaching is organic and modifications happen as you see they are needed not as you anticipate them to be needed on a Sunday night in your living room when you write formal plans for the week. You will not need to review assessments and written work in preparation for a team meeting or parent teacher conference. Instead you will know each of your students intimately as mathematicians and speak confidently on their behalf at any time.

How to Easily Get Started and Maintain an Effective Math Workshop / Guided Math Model:

Learn how to instantly improve your math instruction and increase student learning by using a math workshop with guided math in your elementary classroom.
{click to access and download the bundle}
Guided math instruction is not at all complicated to introduce, manage or maintain. If the concept is new to you or if you feel your skills in this area could be fine tuned, I encourage you to download my Math Workshop with Guided Math Instruction resource bundle. It includes a 50 page eBook that provides all the information you need to create a system, form groups, plan lessons, and document progress. It includes printable and digital resources and tools to help you easily teach the procedures and routines to your students and transform your math instruction into something amazing. Best of all it can be done with any math curriculum. 

I originally wrote it to offer more information on how I used the M.A.T.H. Rotation system I created after I had featured in on the blog , but it has grown to a full resource bundle with everything you need to implement guided math in your own classroom. I can’t even begin to tell you how happy the feedback it has received makes me. It’s been used by thousands of teachers around the globe and I love knowing it has made teachers lives easier, improved students’ math experiences and helped to increase test scores.


Learn how to instantly improve your math instruction and increase student learning by using a math workshop with guided math in your elementary classroom.

Learn how to instantly improve your math instruction and increase student learning by using a math workshop with guided math in your elementary classroom.


The results of using everything included in this resource have been amazing. 

Teachers often report:

  • It is easy to implement.
  • Their students are happier, more focused, and enjoy math so much more.
  • They enjoy teaching math more than ever before.
  • They feel more confident as a math teacher.
  • Their overall class scores on district-wide and state testing are not only improved, but also the "highest in the district." 
Learn how to instantly improve your math instruction and increase student learning by using a math workshop with guided math in your elementary classroom.

You may also be interested in (click any image to view details):

By the way, if you are not already subscribed to The Clutter-Free Classroom newsletter I encourage you sign up. Subscribers receive weekly tips for organizing and managing a classroom as well as exclusive free printables. You can sign up here.



By the way, if you are not already subscribed to The Clutter-Free Classroom newsletter I encourage you sign up. Subscribers receive weekly tips for organizing and managing a classroom as well as exclusive free printables. You can sign up here.