The Math Workshop Model in Middle School

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With tremendous focus on student achievement, educators have tried many strategies to attempt to reach the variety of learners in each classroom. The traditional whole-group direct teaching method used for years in education simply does not meet individual students’ needs. Over the past 3 years at Hubbard Middle School, the campus was successfully achieving overall student achievement in mathematics, but individual student growth was lacking. 

The purpose of this study was to implement the math workshop model including purposeful small group instruction to personalize the learning of the students and focus on their individual needs in the sixth grade math classrooms. The teachers in the study each successfully implemented the math workshop model to varying degrees with a positive impact on district assessment results. The teachers will continue to receive coaching and professional development as they refine their practice. This study resulted in the recommendation of the implementation of the math workshop model in all math classrooms on the campus.

Under the previous accountability system in the state of Texas, a great deal of focus was placed on getting as many students as possible to meet the minimum requirement for passing the standardized state assessment. This created “Educational Triage” (Gillborn and Youdell, 2000) where teachers would identify students who were just below the passing cut score and dedicate the majority of their attention to these lower performing students. This encouraged teachers to refer students who they believed unable to pass to special education to avoid being penalized under the accountability system (Gillborn and Youdell, 2000). This created a large number of students able to pass the minimum score required, but individuals were not improving from year to year. These average to high performing students were receiving instruction in the classroom, but were not being challenged to reach their full learning potential.

When the accountability system was amended, more emphasis was placed on individual student growth. Now, teachers must meet the needs of all students and find ways for all students to achieve. Elementary schools have been utilizing the Math Workshop Model with great success over the past several years to address these individual student needs on a daily basis. When implemented with fidelity, teachers are able to identify individual student misconceptions during small group instruction that targets students of all ability levels a few at a time. As a result, more students show individual growth.

The purpose of this action research was to address implementation of the Math Workshop Model in a sixth grade math classroom at Hubbard Middle School in Tyler, TX to see if it would positively impact student growth in the Approaches, Meets, and Masters categories of mathematics achievement. Assessment data was compared between the first district assessment using direct instruction and the third district assessment using the Math Workshop Model. Teachers used the same scope and sequence and textbook provided by the district. To assess the effectiveness, the following questions must be asked: What formative assessment are teachers using to identify individual students’ needs?; How are teachers addressing the individual students’ needs?; and How are students tracking individual students’ progress toward their growth goals? With this research, the goal is to show that the teachers on our campus are capable of growing students’ academic performance in all accountability categories, not just getting a large portion to approach grade level.

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Research affirmed the correlation between high school course completion and college and career readiness (Altonji 1995; Levine & Zimmerman 1995; Rose & Betts 2004; Attewell & Domina 2008; Long et al. 2009; Long et al. 2012). According to the results of the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, a mere 35 percent students begin high school with the math skills necessary for success. These rates are even lower for students from low income homes who qualify for the National School Lunch Program at 17 percent lacking necessary math skills. Students are largely unprepared for college-level math classes due to low enrollment in advanced math courses in high school (Hilgoe, Brinkley, Hattingh, & Bernhardt, 2016; McCormick & Lucas, 2011).

The idea of Educational Triage has been used in the past to identify and target struggling students to improve test scores of low performing students (Gillborn & Youdell, 2000). Under the 2019 Texas Education Agency Academic Accountability System Framework, teachers are required to not only have students demonstrate a minimum proficiency level in math, but they are also expected to demonstrate that all students are growing each year. The addition of the measure of expected student growth now requires teachers to intervene not only with the students who are struggling to meet grade level proficiency, but also to ensure that all students make at least one year’s worth of growth each academic year.

The math workshop model takes these practices and builds a student-centered community of learners (Newton, 2016). The teacher begins with a warm-up to activate prior knowledge of the students. Then, the teacher guides the whole class through a mini-lesson. This is a short introduction of a new concept that includes purposeful questions, meaningful student discourse, and productive struggle. The teacher will monitor student success during the mini-lesson to identify those in need of further instruction and those who are ready to work independently. Then they move into the work period. During this time, the teacher will select students to meet in a small group to address areas of concern and student misconceptions. While this is happening, the remaining students work on purposeful tasks independently. 

Throughout the work period, the teacher has the flexibility to meet with multiple groups of students at varying levels of achievement to tailor instruction for their specific needs. Finally, the teacher brings all students back together for the close of the lesson. In the closure, the teacher readdresses the major points of the lesson and the students reflect on their learning. Teachers who have implemented the math workshop model have found that this approach establishes a framework for building a community of learners where students do the majority of the work thus they are the ones doing the majority of the learning (Sharp, Bonjour, & Cox, 2019).

The participants for this study included the four sixth grade math teachers at Hubbard Middle School. The campus utilized a block schedule of 90 minute classes. In seventh and eighth grades, students attended math on an alternating A/B day cycle. Sixth grade is the only year in middle school when teachers saw their math students daily. Having 90 minutes of daily math instruction was consistent with the elementary schedule where the use of the math workshop model has already proven effective. For this reason, the six grade math team was chosen to participate in this study. 

The sample included all four members of the sixth grade math team who taught a combination of on-level and pre-AP courses which represented all sixth graders on campus. The teachers selected had a variety of experience in education. One had previously taught in an elementary school and therefore, had a strong background using the math workshop model. Two teachers had previous experience teaching sixth grade math and had a strong understanding of the knowledge and skills required for success in sixth grade math. One teacher was new to the profession and had taught one semester of eighth grade math prior to this study.

Teachers were provided with training on the math workshop model prior to the first day of school. This training showed teachers the need for addressing all learners rather than just the average student. Through use of the teacher table in the workshop model, teachers can differentiate instruction to scaffold for those who are not ready for the new skills and extend for those who have already mastered them. Teachers were instructed to gradually implement the workshop model over the course of the first six weeks of school using an implementation guide provided during the training. After nine instructional weeks, teachers were given an interview to collect feedback regarding their feelings towards the training provided and implementation of the workshop model in their classroom. The implementation guide, interview questions, and consent form are included in the Appendix.

This research study was conducted in the fall of 2019 by training and monitoring the sixth grade math teachers of Hubbard Middle School. Of the four teachers included in the study, one implemented the workshop with fidelity using daily small group rotations, including a teacher table, in all three of her math sections four days per week. One teacher has implemented small group rotations two to three days per week utilizing the teacher table for one-on-one reteaching. 

This essay is graded:
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Expert Review
This essay embarks on an exploration of educational strategies aimed at enhancing student achievement. The focal point rests on the implementation of the math workshop model to cater to diverse learners in a sixth-grade math setting. The author accentuates the shift from a traditional one-size-fits-all approach to personalized instruction, driven by the need for individual growth. However, the intricate interplay of factors underpinning this shift necessitates deeper examination. While the essay presents valuable insights, a more thorough analysis and integration of external research could bolster its credibility and nuance. Additionally, enhancing coherence between paragraphs would lend a smoother flow to the narrative.
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What can be improved
In-depth Exploration: Delve deeper into the complexities of the educational strategies, considering factors like pedagogical context and student diversity. External Research: Incorporate external research to substantiate claims and provide a broader perspective on the challenges and outcomes of the math workshop model. Coherence Enhancement: Strengthen the transition between paragraphs to improve the overall flow and readability of the essay.
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