Math Mondays: Introduction to Math Workshop

My first year teaching, I taught 8th grade social studies and language arts. (Don't worry this post really is about teaching math). Anyway, I had read Nancie Atwell's In the Middle and was absolutely thrilled to do reading and writing workshop with my ELA students.  For those unfamiliar, the workshops do mini lessons and then students work individually and in small groups on projects of their choice related to reading and writing.  I made many mistakes that first year, but the best thing I did was empower students with a completely student-centered curriculum.

The following summer I taught a year of pre-Algebra in a full-time bridge

program to low-income students.  I loved the students, hated the teaching.  Not because it was math (I love math and teaching it), but because it was the complete opposite of student-centered.
That class was whole class learning all the time. And when we did do some creative pieces, I mostly felt like I was failing my students. I knew there were kids who needed to spend more time on probability or needed a fractions refresher or were struggling with decimals, but I didn't know how to differentiate it in my math class.  We just moved through the curriculum as quickly as we could.

Fast forward to not only more experience teaching but also hundreds of hours observing other teachers, and I've come to the realization that those reading workshop principles can absolutely work in other subject areas, particularly in math.  In other words, I have figured out how to differentiate, well. 

Now, I teach what I like to call math workshop. The basic principles of math workshop are:

  • meet students at their level
  • provide opportunities for solo and collaborative work
  • introduce concepts
  • allow for practice and mastery
  • connect math to the students world.

What I love about math workshop is that:

  • it is a student-centered learning environment
  • it allows mastery learning to truly happen.  
  • My students think "yes, I can" instead of just falling behind or being bored because their needs aren't met.

This post is the first in a 5 part series on math workshops.  In part 2, I will discuss what my math workshop looks like. In post 3 I share the nitty gritty/how to.  In part 4, I discuss organizational structures for math workshop. And part 5 is a summary. Please join in the discussion with your experiences in ways to differentiate.



  1. Differentiation is so important in the classroom. I really look forward to reading this series!

    1. Agreed. I think differentiation is challenging, though, from an organizational point of view. I am hoping this series will help support other teachers.



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