Supporting All Learners In Mathematics...Even "Those Kids"

Saturday, September 5, 2015 / 3 comments

This year my school is piloting the MTSS model (multi-tiered system of support).  The short story of that is that my classroom is now a very inclusive classroom.  With that comes new challenges.  I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on the needs of my class and trying to find the best practices to best serve all students.  Last year, I started keeping a checklist where I would quickly note who "had it" and who needed extra support.  I would use that information to pull a small group right after the lesson, but it wasn’t as effective and purposeful as I would like.   I thought I might share my new plan (at least for this moment) with you just in case you are in the same or a similar situation.  I’m sure you may have some great ideas as well that could help me out so please share!  I am in the “work in progress” state right now.

In my room, math runs from 11:40-1:00
11:40-12:00  - Number Talks – whole class participates – everyone has access to mathematical ideas from their own perspective.  "In contrast to traditional algorithms, Number Talks depend on students' sense-making. Number Talks help students become confident mathematical thinkers more effectively than any single instructional practice we have ever used.  There are far too many students who feel like they are no good at math because they aren't quick to get right answers.  With Number Talks, students start to believe in themselves mathematically.  They become more willing to persevere when solving complex problems.  They become more confident when they realize that they have ideas worth listening to.  And when students feel this way, the culture of a class can be transformed." (Making Number Talks Matter, Page 9)  In addition to all of those benefits of using number talks, I need at least part of my math day to be spent on mathematical ideas that all students have access to.  Yes, I know we want to give all children access through low floor, high ceiling tasks. Did I mention I have a whole group of students who don't even know their numbers yet?  I mean they don't identify numbers yet, no understanding of what the number represents, no one to one correspondence.  This makes giving them access to tasks very difficult.  I am using Number Talks as a way to integrate those students in a meaningful way into the classroom math time.  I am hoping to help build a confidence in them that will entice them to want to learn more about math.  Since we start with dot patterns in the beginning of the year, all kids can have access and talk about math. (If you’re struggling with getting your kids to talk, take a look at this post: "HOW TO GET KIDS TO "SPEAK MATH" EARLY IN THE YEAR".)

12:00-12:15 – Procedural Fluency & Intervention Time –The bulk of the class will have time to practice standards to help build their procedural fluency.  I will modify work for those higher performing students to give them a bit of a push.  Students will be working on standards that they already understand conceptually.  When I reflect on my class last year, I don't think I gave them enough time for procedural fluency, and that was a mistake. 
 To quote the California Math Framework,  “When students learn mathematics conceptually, they understand why procedures and algorithms work, and doing mathematics becomes meaningful because it makes sense.  Conceptual understanding is not the only goal; teachers must also structure class time and/or homework time for students to practice procedural skills.”  Page 3 & 4 in Instructional Strategies (If you're interested in reading more about the framework here is a link:    
Presenter: Sandy Atkins - Owner and Executive Director of Creating Ahas
Picture from N.C.T.M. Boston 2015

I'm going to keep the focus of the intervention group related to the core work of the classroom.
Doing this will help give those kids a greater chance at access to the grade level work. At N.C.T.M. last year, Jason Zimba said, "Standards can not be handcuffs for the students placed in front of you."  The way I interpret this is that I have some freedom to meet my students at their level and build from there.  Isn't that what building from conceptual understanding is all about?  When you compare it to reading intervention, you wouldn't force a student who reads at a level 3 to read level 12 text in intervention just because they are behind, would you?  No, you start at the child's present level and build from there.
Have you seen the coherence map on Achieve the Core site?  I think it's pretty awesome.  I plan on trying it out while planning intervention.  Chapter 8 in Student Centered Mathematics (K-2) and Fosnot's Landscape of Learning can also be very helpful when planning interventions.

One thing I learned from Karen Karp about math interventions is that we can't remove the problem solving just because kids aren't "getting it."  I hypothesize that this is the point when many teachers may give up and revert back to a direct instruction model.  It makes sense doesn't it?  Imagine you are a teacher who is just beginning to "lean in" to teaching this way and you have a student or a group of students who aren't "getting it."  It must not work, right?  Better go back to the old faithful, "I do, we do, you do!"  That totally works!  Students aren't the only ones who have to work on persevering and problem solving, are they?   What Karp made clear was that students still need to problem solve.  She said that students who struggle with mathematics don't see the connections between different representations or strategies and those connections are what need to be made explicit.
I currently have two intervention groups.  One for the kids that aren’t too far behind, and the other for the group who don't have an understanding of number yet. Yikes! It's like having a combo!
 12:15-12:50 – Math Lesson - Delivered using the format of the 5 Practices for Orchestrating Mathematical Discussions.  See A First Grade Teacher Enters The Math World for a quick description of how a typical math lesson goes. During the math lesson, all students are exposed to the grade level tasks, representations and discussions.
12:50-1:00 – Math Journal time - There are so many uses for math journals; reflection, metacognition, making connections, evaluating tools and strategies, etc.  This time can also be used again, to help students who may not have “gotten it” during the lesson or whom may not have access to the task.
Starting in October, I will also have 1 math center in my morning center work for spiraling.  I run centers three days per week.  Each week focuses on one concept.  This is the format I use to structure review.
Day 1: Procedural Fluency 
Day 2: Common Misconceptions 
Day 3: Metacognition
When I designed my review, I purposefully tried to make it deeper than just procedural fluency.  I want the kids to know it inside and out, prove it and disprove it.  I want them to be able to choose tools that are efficient, I want them to understand it so well that they can teach it to a friend and then have the friend understand it.

Well, this is where I leave you for the moment.  If you have more practice at this than I do, please share your insights.  This is something that I'm working through.  I don't expect this to go as perfectly as my little schedule looks on paper, but I'm going to give it a shot and adjust as needed.


  1. Thanks for sharing this Jamie! Figuring out how to structure the math block and reach every child seems like a constant challenge! When I worked as a math interventionist, I found it really worthwhile to invest time in listening carefully to kids work on problems to better understand what's behind the "not getting it." Are they making sense of the problems? What kinds of strategies are they using? What DO they know? While this takes time up front, it gave my work with students some clear direction. I knew where to start from! I hope you'll keep sharing your insights!

  2. Totally agree. Diagnostic interviews are very helpful! Luckily I have a little help this year from the sp. ed. teacher during this time so actually doing those interviews is more doable.

  3. it was actually after reading a series of your blog posts the quality levels motivated me to top quality essay writing services over checkers for grammars and spelling sto make sure it had no mistakes


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