There are so many types of guided math out there these days… and no one style is necessarily better than the others. Each style of guided math works, they just work a little differently. The purpose is always the same, though- to differentiate math for students so that their learning is more complete and more meaningful, or tailored just for them.
Some teachers have a set of rotations students work through each day (or week) that involve an acronym of some kind… you’ve probably seen M.A.T.H. and B.U.I.L.D., for example.
Some teachers work solely with small groups… they have no whole group math instruction, and their student groups may be working on totally different things. This is especially helpful when your students come to you with a wide range of mathematical ability and background.
I do it a little differently, though. While my method is a bit different than those described above, it works for me and my students quite well. My colleagues and admin know that I work with small groups during math. And so, I often get asked the following questions... always in this order:
How do I group my students?
And then they ask...
What do I do with them in their small groups?
This post will tell you just that. Keep reading. 🙂
CHOOSING A GUIDED MATH FORMAT
Since I am such a huge fan of guided reading, I did consider doing a version of guided math that is similar to guided reading- with students in prearranged groups that work on different skills, texts, and topics, but that just wasn’t a good fit for my class.
While my students’ reading levels varied greatly every year, they weren’t too terribly far apart in their mathematical understanding. A common whole group lesson worked well for us, but I DID need to be able to differentiate who needed a little more practice with the daily lesson, and I knew there were also a few who needed some foundational support.
This is the format I finally settled on, and it works great for us. Read on to see if it might work for you, too!
USING QUICK CHECKS TO MONITOR UNDERSTANDING
I went through and created two Quick Checks to go with each daily PPT math lesson… this step is pretty easy. Just take the skill that you are teaching your students that day, and give them two examples to work through on their whiteboards.
Hold up the first Quick Check, then wait for everyone to complete the task. We do a “Write it and Hide it” procedure so they flip over or cover their whiteboards when they are done. Then on the count of 3, I say, “Show what you know!” and they hold up their whiteboards for me to check their answers. I scan the group, make a mental note of who missed it, then show them Quick Check #2.
Here’s an important thing I do, though. While they are working, I am constantly scanning the group, watching for students who are peeking at their neighbors’ boards. I know I can’t be the only teacher who has copycats in their classroom… it is a natural thing for students who lack confidence with their skills to seek out ways to get the right answer. So I also make a mental note of who is leaning on their neighbors to help them out. Those students will need intervention, too.
USING AN IF/THEN CHART TO SET UP DAILY GROUPS
After the Quick Checks, students put away their whiteboards and manipulatives from the whole group lesson, and I call my first group to the table. If I don’t have anyone who really needs intervention that day, I call on some of the on-level students (who did just fine on the Quick Checks) or even some of my high-achievers (we’ll work on enrichment).
I’ll describe later what I do for these two groups, but I wanted to mention that I sometimes pull these students, too, so everyone is accustomed to being called to be in a group, and no one feels targeted or ever feels embarrassed to be at my table… most kids actually love getting extra teacher attention, so it actually makes them feel special to get called to my table.
I use a system described on this If/Then chart pictured below. I base my interventions on the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy and rainbow color code them with targeted activities for:
- Remember (red)
- Understand (orange)
- Apply (yellow)
- Analyze (green)
- Evaluate (blue)
- Create (purple)
If students miss (or copy) both problems, they are going to be in my “red” group (not a name I actually tell them, just a mental note of which lessons I will follow for them… those lessons are in a red box on my small group plans).
If they missed one problem and got the other correct, they will be in my “orange” group. My yellow box on my plans are for my on-level students who got both Quick Checks correct (and are ready to move on to independent practice), and the green, blue and purple sections of my enrichment lessons are for my high-achieving students who really need a challenge. Again, those details are further below.
IMMEDIATE INTERVENTIONS FOR STRUGGLING STUDENTS
If I have a student (or students) who need red box interventions, I call them to the table first. They need the most immediate intervention so they are not getting overly frustrated and feeling defeated. Identifying themselves as confident mathematicians is an important focus in my classroom, and I don’t want anyone to feel like they can’t do something after it has been taught.
Another huge danger for these students is what happens if they are making procedural mistakes…they are working off of misconceptions that get solidified in their minds they more they do it. Doing something the wrong way over and over again makes it much more difficult to correct. If I want to teach them the right way to do it, I need to intervene quickly.
With these students, it is vital to get them working concretely with hands-on manipulatives. Yes, they were most likely working with manipulatives during the guided practice section of our whole group lesson, but there is just something about having a teacher’s undivided attention and working step-by-step that really helps the light bulbs go off in a struggling student.
Every direction for these students is pre-planned. In my red box on my lesson plans, I have written exactly what I want to say to the students and what tasks I want them to perform. I take it back to the most basic, simple steps and have them watch me model, then ask them to perform the task themselves. Next, I have them work with a partner to do the same type of task (if there is another student at the table). And lastly, I have them perform the task independently.
Once I feel they have the hang of it, I invite anyone I may have identified as being in the orange group to join my table… those who only missed one of the Quick Checks. These are my kids who kind of get it, but need some reinforcement to feel confident.
CLEARING UP CONFUSION FOR KIDS WHO ARE “ALMOST THERE”
With this group (and my red group kiddos…they are still at the table, too), I introduce a second manipulative. This is important because I want my students to be able to transfer the skill to using different formats. If we worked with a ten frame and counters with the red group, we might work with a ten frame and beans with the orange group, or cubes, or some other type of manipulative. The manipulative doesn’t matter as much as the fact that I am asking them to perform the SAME task with a DIFFERENT tool.
So we go through the process again. I model, they copy to complete the first task. Next, they work with partners to complete the second task, and then they complete the third task independently. Gradual release of responsibility at it’s finest, people. 🙂
The very last step of my small group interventions is all about math talk. I always complete the two quick tasks in the yellow box on my lesson plans with my intervention students who are with me at my table before I let them start working on their independent practice page, and if I have time, I try to catch up with as many of my on-level students and have them do the same.
ENCOURAGING MATH TALK WITH ON-LEVEL STUDENTS
The math talk portion of my small group lessons is quite simple. There are two steps: first, I ask them to SHOW ME how they would solve a problem (just like the ones we learned about and practiced that day), and then I ask them to TEACH ME how to solve a second problem. This involves them using the math vocabulary and language we have been practicing, and really gives me a strong insight into their mathematical understanding.
Once I finish up with my intervention students (the red and orange groups), I call a couple of on-level students over at a time and ask them to walk me through those steps (the SHOW ME and TEACH ME steps) to make sure they are not only following the procedure correctly , but also that they can talk about what they are doing and explain why. We teachers know that this helps them solidify their learning and helps deepen their understanding.
PROVIDING ENRICHMENT FOR HIGH-ACHIEVING STUDENTS
I don’t always have intervention groups… and when I do, they don’t take too terribly long. My whole group lessons are designed to maximize student engagement and understanding, and usually I only have one or two students who need me immediately.
I try to pull my high-achievers a couple of times a week to do some enrichment activities with them. I keep their lessons on a different sheet- there is one enrichment lesson plan sheet for the whole unit, as opposed to the intervention lesson plans that go with each day’s lesson.
These enrichment activities are scaffolded so that we start with the Analyze (green) lessons first, then move onto the Evaluate (blue), and then finish with the Create (purple) lessons by the end of the unit. I do one or two quick activities with them…whatever we have time for. These lessons involve lots of math talk and justification, and students have to really think critically to solve the problems or answer the questions. That is what I want them to do!
WHAT ARE THE OTHER KIDS DOING WHILE I MEET WITH SMALL GROUPS?
I told you above that I immediately meet with my red group after the Quick Checks. I left one step out. I do send those students to my table right away, but I also take a moment to go over the Daily Practice and Try This pages that go with our daily lessons with the rest of the class.
Basically, there are two worksheet options for students to do their independent practice phase of our math block… one is a simple practice that gives them 8-10 problems of exactly what we learned in our whole group lesson, and the other is an enrichment page that asks them to take their learning to the next step.
Sometimes the Try This page uses the same type of problem, just with bigger numbers, and sometimes it asks students to intuitively figure out how to do the next step (often what we will cover in tomorrow’s lesson). For example, if we learned today how to subtract ones from a two-digit number, the problems on the Try This page might have problems that involve subtracting tens from a two-digit number.
I quickly review with students what is asked of them on each page, and let them choose which page they want to complete that day.
When they are finished with their math paper, they turn it in and then grab a math center to continue strengthening their skills. If you want to find out more information about our math centers, see this post.
IMPLEMENTING GUIDED MATH IN YOUR OWN CLASSROOM
Are you ready to give a version of guided math a try?
If you are interested in trying out the format I use, CLICK HERE to get a free copy of my Stress-Free Guided Math. It has a detailed explanation, along with completed examples from my lessons and blank templates so you can design your own activities to go with your daily lessons.
If that seems overwhelming and you would prefer to just have everything already done for you, check out my Guided Math units. They are ready to print and go to keep your math block completely STRESS-FREE.