Math Workshop in Action: Strategies for Gr K-5
Reviewed by Linda Biondi
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I am sure that many of us have heard that expression numerous times. But it’s not true. You can teach an old dog new tricks. Take it from me…a veteran teacher of 40 years.
Math Workshop in Action: Strategies for Grades K-5 is precisely the book that should be on every teacher’s bookshelf. I did learn some new tricks, revisited some “old ones,” and was ready to “unleash” my math potential.
Often, when people (students and adults) hear the word “math,” they get that uneasy feeling in their stomachs, beads of sweat grace their brow, and heart palpitations might even surface. Chances are they were taught the old way – math instruction built on teacher lectures, worksheets, memorizing facts after facts, definitions after definitions, with little space for creativity or collaboration.
Math Workshop is not new or “new math.” It follows the same method of delivering instruction as Readers and Writers Workshop. It is “about a group of children learning and working together…. Students collaborate and learn about math in a space that is invigorating, rigorous, and standards based. Math Workshop is meant to be a part of what memories are made of.” (p. 1)
Math Workshop in Action is a book that creates lasting memories of what best practices in math instruction should look like, sound like and BE.
More about the book
Dr. Nicki Newton, a dedicated educator of 27 years, has written a comprehensive book that guides educators in grades K-5 (I teach grade 4) through the process of setting up a Math Workshop, beginning with creating a community of learners in a math-rich classroom.
Now don’t get nervous. A math-rich classroom is not costly but includes toolkit items such as dice, calculators, templates of grid paper, rules, bingo chips, Unifix Cubes, pattern blocks and math anchor charts. A math-rich classroom is one where students view themselves as mathematicians.
“Math Talk Stems:
When talking about your thinking
I’m wondering if…
It reminds me of…
I’m feeling like…
I learned that…
I was confused when…”
From Figure 1.14
Is your classroom math rich?
As I read the chapter “Living and Learning in a Mathematically Rich Space,” I reflected on my own classroom environment. I knew that it was literacy rich but was it math rich? The reflection questions that Newton includes at the end of each chapter gave me my answer. “No, it wasn’t.”
I needed to review, reevaluate, and rethink how to make my classroom welcoming to mathematicians. The questions she asked took but a minute to think about but were powerful.
- What are some strong elements of your math environment?
- What are some parts of your math environment that you want to improve?
- Is there a balance between your literacy anchor charts and your math anchor charts?
- What new ideas stand out most to you in this chapter? What will you do next?
I began to rearrange my mentor texts to include math mentor texts. Soon my math word wall was portable, accessible and student created. The guided reading station was next to a guided math station. A true math transformation appeared in my classroom. I no longer struggled to create a inviting and manageable math workshop.
As my math mindset changed, so did that of my students, thanks to Dr. Newton.
This book is more than a list of activities or how-to’s. The author takes you through the entire process of setting up the Math Workshop without restructuring your life. Her ideas offer you practical and specific ways to become the math teacher you always wanted to be. This book transforms classroom into rich castles of learning ringing out with accountable math talk, collaboration, and understanding.
Why this book is exceptional
Educators know that the curriculum is not the only avenue to student success. Effective classroom management, meaningful engagement, sharing student voice in accountable talk, and conscientious reflection are also roadways to student success. Newton infuses these concepts throughout her book supported by research-based documentation.
Her book reads like a conversation with a colleague. Sample discussions between teachers and their students are included in each chapter to give the reader a jump start to any questions or stumbling blocks that might occur within the classroom. I have to admit that when she used several of my favorite researchers (such as Marzano and Dweck), I was even more excited. Because the book reads like a conversation with a colleague, it feels as if you are taking the journey together, but with an experienced mentor by your side. Your mentor, Newton, takes you through the process providing strategies to make each component work.
Newton’s book is a fabulous gift that helps teachers navigate the learning experiences that should be taking place in every classroom – student centered classrooms in which the teacher is the facilitator of their learning. Her advice is practical and adaptable, along with a high level of accountability.
I highly recommend this book to any math educator – teacher, coach, department head, or professor – who is interested in engaging students in research based teaching that is interactive, challenging, and fun! Although the book is targeted for teachers from K-5, I feel that it can be easily adapted into any level math classroom in the middle grades. The concepts and strategies are examples of Best Practices. And that is what good teaching is all about.
Linda Biondi is a fourth grade teacher at Pond Road Middle School in Robbinsville, NJ, and a long-time Morning Meeting practitioner. She’s also the recipient of several educational grants, a Teacher Consultant with the National Writing Project and a participant on the NJ Department of Education Teacher Advisory Panel. Linda participates in ECET2 Celebrate Teaching which has posted an interview with her.