Minds on Mathematics - Ch1, Workshop {Book Study}

I'm super excited to be joining a few other math teachers for a book study this month. I've been reading Guided Math by Laney Simmons, but so many of the idea expressed seem to be geared towards elementary and self-contained settings. I was stoked when I read a post by Sherrie @ Middle School Math Rules. She found a book that is about math workshop in middle grades. I immediately scrounged up my duckeys and purchased the book a few days later. So, I'll be joining in and posting my thoughts of the book Minds on Mathematics by Wendy Ward Hoffer. Hoffer explains:
The primary aim of this text is to describe how teachers can organize theirs classroom instruction as workshops that honor the primacy of student thinking, the imperative of student understanding, the key role that classroom discourse plays in achieving both. (p. xviii)

Before I get to Chapter 1, some things stood out to me in the introduction. The statement that "math is memorizing" is one of the reasons Hoffer listed as a "reason we don't get math." She goes on to say:
Although there are indeed math facts and theorems worth committing to memory, students need the gifts of time and space and coaching to construct for themselves an understanding of why a particular algorithm works. (p. xvi)
I love how she refers to giving students time, space, and coaching as a gift. I know my students don't see it that way, but they need to struggle through some things so that they can take ownership of the content, developing an understanding and not just a process.

Another "reason we don't get math" is the belief that "math ability is innate." The book Mindset by Carol Dweck is referred to in this section. I am amazed how much I have seen this book referenced since I read it last year. Hoffer syas that to battle the fixed mindset, we must teach students the growth mindset and some ways that can be done are by "praising motivation and effort, rather than celebrating 'smarts' as some thing intrinsic" (p. xvii).

Chapter 1 is titled Minds-on Math Workshop.
This is a phrase I [Hoffer] coined to describe math learning experiences hat require students to draw upon their intellectual resources as critical thinkers and problem solvers, rather than simply follw a given algorithm; require learners to stretch and think in new ways, rather than rehearse known skills; invites students to communicate their ideas with others, rather than secretly to the teacher, and as a result, offer learners opportunities to attain deeper understanding both of mathematics and of themselves as mathematicians. (p. xvii)
The chapter begins with the problem this chapter seeks to answer and a postulate of how minds-on workshop can be the solution.

Often, as a teacher, I have a hard time allowing students the time to struggle through problems. In an effort to save them from their struggles, I've jumped in answering questions, explaining problems, and guiding students way too much. I'm sure I'm not the only one and that was confirmed in this chapter. Hoffer states that she had to to learn not "to let students do the work of think which led to understanding" (p. 2).

Hoffer states the beliefs that guided her evolution into minds-on workshop:

  • Students are capable of brilliance.
  • Understanding takes time.
  • There is more than one way.

Time seems to be the one constraint that all teachers complain about when it comes to doing something new. Hoffer states there are other constraints such as "curriculum, unit plans, school schedules, department expectations, district and state tests...and the list goes on" (p. 4). I have always been willing to try new things and like Hoffer feel that if students are learning and performing, there are not too many administrators that will object from me trying something different in order to increase student achievement. The focus of minds-on math workshop being "understanding" and not "covering." The keys aspects of workshop are:

  • challenging tasks
  • community
  • collaboration and discourse
  • conferring

Book Study Discussion Questions

1. What were your biggest ah ha moments in this chapter?
I need to do less talking and more listening and allocating classroom time accordingly. (p. 5) The idea of me as a facilitator is not foreign to me, but I do not think I do a good job of it. I had not thought that one of my main roles as a facilitator is allocating classroom time appropriately. Hoffer suggests that classroom time should be allocated as the picture shows below:
I can honestly say that this is not what my class time looks like. I imagine that most days, my "minilesson" takes up at least half of the class period, not a minilesson at all. The statement that "those doing the most work are doing the most learning" (p. 5) stood out to me. I can definitely say that I've learned lots, and probably to the detriment of my students' understanding of math.

2. What components of math workshop are already present in your classroom?
Community. I remember looking at a district-provided pacing guide a few years ago and the whole first week was filled with teambuilding activities. I did one day of that, and got straight to the math. This past year, I finally understood the importance of community. Community was a big part of our differentiated instruction focus this past year. I think building community in the classroom made student more likely to take risks.There were other benefits, but I was so happy to see students trying hard, making mistakes along the way, and trying to learn from those mistakes. They were willing to talk about their mistakes with other students and discuss them with the entire class. They didn't shy away from shame of being wrong, but embraced it as a part of learning. I have been thinking a lot about more ways to build community in my classroom this coming school year. I hope to build on what I've done.

3. What are the next steps for planning for math workshop in your classroom this coming year?
I want to be mindful of how I allocate classroom time so that my students are doing the work, therefore doing most of the learning. Hoffer offers a lesson plan template on p. 17 that breaks the day into opening, minilesson, work time, then sharing and reflecting. I think the more important part of that template is that within each section there is space to detail what the teacher does and what the student does during each part of the workshop. I think focusing on what students do will be easy, but I need to be more mindful of my role during each portion.

I am also looking forward to the chapter on conferring. "Conferring describes a particular sort of discourse that takes place between a teacher and student focused together around understanding a concept" (p. 7). I instantly think of a structure for this and how I'll record it. I'm sure I'm probably trying to be too structured and it's as simple as having conversations with students and assessing through those conversations.

Alright, I'm starting late on the book study, so it's time for me to read chapter 2.
Want to read what other teachers think about this book? Check out the book study link-up!
Minds on Mathematics Book Study

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