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Building Student Math Identities with the Workshop Model

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This week Jennifer Lempp and Kristen Stump discuss the workshop model in the elementary math classroom. 

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Join us today as we hear from Jennifer Lempp and Kristen Stump about shifting the culture and structure of their elementary math classrooms. Jennifer is author of Math Workshop: Five Steps to Implementing Guided Math Learning Stations, Reflection and More. And Kristen is a current classroom teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia. Their conversation is a beautiful testament to teacher growth that leads to student success. 




Below is a transcript of this episode.

Jennifer Lempp:

And this group of students, while they knew that I loved them, while I felt like I had built a community with them, they did not feel like successful mathematicians. They did not necessarily have the type of skills that they had hoped for. They didn't have the confidence in themselves, and not every student, but too many of them.


Hi, this is Edie. Welcome back to the Heinemann Podcast. Join us today as we hear from Jennifer Lempp and Kristen Stump about shifting the culture and structure of their elementary math classrooms. Jennifer is author of Math Workshop: Five Steps to Implementing Guided Math Learning Stations, Reflection and More. And Kristen is a current classroom teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia. Their conversation is a beautiful testament to teacher growth that leads to student success. Hi, Jennifer. Hi, Kristen. So glad you could join me today. Thank you for your time.


Thanks for having us.


So my first question, Jennifer, Math Workshop shifts a lot of thinking around what we might typically imagine in a math classroom. So what were you seeing in terms of disengagement in the math classroom that led you to say, "Hey, I think there's a better way here."


I believe that it really started as a personal story for me. I was a classroom teacher. I taught at both the elementary and the middle school level, and there was one grade in particular, one group of students in particular, I had taught them when they were in elementary school, and I loved that group of kids so much. And I saw that group of kids later when I started teaching in middle school and I became their teacher again. And this group of students, while they knew that I loved them, while I felt like I had built a community with them, they did not feel like successful mathematicians. They did not necessarily have the type of skills that they had hoped for. They didn't have the confidence in themselves, and not every student, but too many of them.

What it really taught me is that it wasn't enough to love your students. It wasn't enough to just build the relationship. I needed to do something different instructionally than what I was doing in the past. And to be honest, I share this with a lot of people, that I did not like teaching math when I first started teaching at all. In fact, it was my least favorite subject of all to teach. I hated it. I didn't feel good at it. And I think seeing this group of children really solidified that idea that I needed to do something different. Having looked at how I was teaching, reading and writing and doing more small group work, being able to meet kids where they were in other subject areas, it taught me that if I use that same approach, that maybe I would be able to meet children where they were, I would be able to engage them more in the mathematics, I'd be able to differentiate more easily.

And what I found is that in switching and playing around with the workshop model, I saw joy in kids. I experienced joy again in teaching mathematics for the first time, and I knew them better. I needed to make tweaks based on real data and seeing kids solve problems from start to finish. And a workshop model gave me that. Students who never participated started to participate in class. Students who had told me that they had never passed an end of year assessment, started to find some success in the classroom. And what I really just wanted is for these students to believe in themselves as capable, and I finally had some instructional strategies to help support that.


Yeah, I would love to dig into some of those specific instructional strategies. So Kristen, in Jennifer's book, she discusses the importance of students doing most of the math and students talking about their thinking. So can you talk more about this and how you've seen it play out in your classroom, those really specific instructional moves?

Kristen Stump:

Sure. Those are specific and so important. In order for students to be engaged and have joy and feel good about math, they need to be taking the ownership. They need to be taking responsibility for the challenge, but also for the fun that they're having while they're finding success in math. I'll say as a student, I never felt good about math. I didn't feel like I was good at math, and it's taken years of teaching and focusing on identity and building a belief that you're a math person. And I try to use the engagement with students in math and making it fun to help them build that identity and for them to see themselves as math people.

Through the workshop, students find, they foster and they strengthen that identity, and then they can build upon that in the classroom. They bring on the challenges. They want that challenge to feel good about themselves. They are able to confirm their ability as a mathematician, and they know that when frustration comes, they'll be able to work through it. They have that solid foundation to lean on and talking about math really helps students to process their thinking. They're able to talk to friends and hear different ideas and make connections, and it really increases the amount of voice in the math class.


Thanks for going into that identity as a mathematician and that finding that. I'm curious too, Jennifer, from your observing and being in Kristen's classroom, so when students build that identity and when students are doing most of the math, what do you see? What does that look like in Kristen's classroom?


Kristen describes this idea of voice and choice in the Math Workshop model, seeing that in action in her classroom, it's magical. It's really amazing to see. In fact, in her first 15 to 20 minutes of her math class, there was very little of Kristen's voice being entered into the space. It was all students doing the thinking and doing the talking, and you could just see in her watching what students were doing and listening in, she knew what students knew, what they don't know yet and where to go forward and what questions to ask. She was able to make those adjustments based on what kids were doing. Instead of filling the entire space with her own words, she was able to fill that entire first 15 to 20 minutes with just students discussing.

It's very evident that Kristen does not believe that she is the holder of all knowledge in that classroom, that students should learn from and with one another, not just a teacher. And those students really feel like they have something to share and that their ideas are valued because of that. She doesn't jump in and take over every time they're talking. She's really taught them that we are quiet when someone else is talking and we listen to them because we could learn something really wonderful from our friends in the classroom. It's not that all of the good ideas just come from a teacher. And the idea of that choice, you could really see that even when they were doing different learning stations, Kristen had pulled some small groups to work and everyone else had a lot of choice in what activities they did, even where they did it, how they went about it.

There were some students who were playing different games, different math games. There were students who chose to work independently building arrays with stickers. There were students who were coming up with products and doing a Pop-It. There was really great thinking going on, and student autonomy increased in that classroom, which automatically then increases that achievement and the engagement. Students were not wasting a single instructional minute in that class because they were so invested in the activity, because they chose it.


So Kristen, with some of this confidence you've seen in your students, what have you noticed in terms of progress from using the math workshop structure and learning stations and small group instruction in your classroom?


The workshop model allows students to begin their math session with the number sense routine and activity that really ignites and sparks excitement and joy for their math lesson that day. As students go off to practice and do either independent or small group or partnership math practice, I start pulling small groups. And the small groups are really where the magic happens. That's where you can really dial in on what students need. What are their misconceptions? What are they noticing, what are they wondering? It's an opportunity to teach model scaffold, but also an opportunity to listen. To really listen in on their thinking and that ability to listen in and have the time to hear them guides the instruction. It kind of leads a path for where we go next.

And in order for students to make progress, we need to know those steps. We need to know where they are in their thinking and how to proceed and go forward. And then everything else kind of falls in place. The next lesson, those things can be integrated into it. Their learning stations can support what we're seeing in that small group. Their partnerships, their talk, all of those things can be connected to what we're seeing in that small group.


I think one thing I would just love to add on to what Kristen said about that small group time, or I guess really something I'd like to elevate from what Kristen mentioned about small group is that idea of really listening. And sitting in Kristen's classroom, Kristen approaches that small group time with curiosity. Remaining curious about what kids know and how they're solving problems and what they're thinking, you could tell that she makes no assumptions about student work based on what they're doing. She asks lots of great questions, but just really spending that time to listen and remain curious. We want kids to be curious about mathematics, but as educators, we also can remain curious about the student thinking, and that's something that I was always really impressed with and what I saw in Kristen's classroom.


Thank you both for your really thoughtful answers. I feel like I have such a good sense of Math Workshop from this conversation. Another thing, we know teachers are really busy and if they don't feel they have the time to read this book from cover to cover, what would be the most beneficial place to start? So I'd love to hear from both of you on this. And Jennifer, would you start?


Sure. I know that teachers' time is so valuable and there's so little of it. If I were to mention a part of the book, I would say that first chapter where it just talks about the why, the what it is and the why. But then chapter two has some mini lessons that I feel like really launches the start of Math Workshop. It helps to introduce it to students, and anytime that teachers are worried about how Math Workshop is going or they might've hit a roadblock, we often go back to chapter two, try to identify the root cause of what maybe isn't going so well and go into chapter two's mini lessons. And sometimes we just need to help students be reminded of some of those expectations or benefits.

Sometimes if we're noticing that students need just to work on transition time during Math Workshop, we can go back to that mini lesson. Working with a partner, how that is supposed to look, what that looks like, sounds like, and feels like to work with a partner. So if we're to get things started, chapter one helps you to get the idea, the teacher to get the idea of what Math Workshop really is. And chapter two will help you launch it and get started. And if you're a teacher who already has started a Math Workshop approach and find that things aren't going so well, chapter two is a great place to go to help with those solutions.


And Kristen, I'd love to hear on a sort of personal note, if you can think back about getting started with Math Workshop, where did you jump in? How did you jump in?


So I'll start by saying, this job is not easy. It is so hard, and we are getting piles and piles of things added to our plates. But this book will really truly alleviate some of the things from your plate and just make teaching math so much easier, but also fun and enjoyable and strengthen your students, for sure. I second starting with chapter two and also going back to those lessons, those mini lessons. And you can do that anytime. You can jump in anytime during the year and start. I just think there's so many resources in here that make it really easy to start.

In chapter three, thinking about the structure of your workshop. It's probably not that different from structures that you already have in place. So this is a resource that will truly enhance the things that you're already doing. My teammate and good teacher, friend, we joke all the time about keeping this book on our lap while we're teaching and just using it, having it right there for us because everything's there. You don't need to read it cover to cover. You should, but there are parts of it that you can just pick up and run with. So my best advice is dip your toes in, get started. You will see the effects right away. And that success with the kids and the progress, that's what drove me to dig deeper and continue and motivated me to keep going.


Thank you, Kristen. Thanks, Jennifer.


Thank you.


You can learn more about Jennifer's book and read a full transcript @blog.heinemann.com. Thanks for listening today, and please tune in again for more engaging conversations that center teachers and students.



Jennifer Lempp is a director in the Office of School Support in Fairfax County Public Schools, Virginia. She has taught at both the elementary and middle school levels and served as a math coach. In addition, Jennifer has facilitated professional development at the local, state, and national levels and is a Nationally Board Certified Teacher in Early Adolescence Mathematics. She is currently enrolled in an Educational Leadership doctoral program at the University of Virginia and will earn her EdD in Administration and Supervision. Jennifer is a mother of three children: Mason, Claire, and Sophia. She enjoys biking, hiking, and kayaking with them and her husband on the weekends


staff pic

Kristen Stump is a 3rd Grade teacher at Franconia Elementary in Fairfax County, VA.  She is a nationally board certified teacher and has been teaching in grades K-3 for 21 years.  Kristen is passionate about student centered learning and is committed to student progress.  She loves to read and spend time with her husband and two children. 

Topics: Math Workshop, Podcast, Heinemann Podcast, Jennifer Lempp

Date Published: 11/16/23

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