Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Differentiating Math

I would love to say that I am the genius who thought up this idea, but I am not. I wasn't able to fully implement this system in my classroom this year for a variety of reasons, the biggest being I was out of my room for meetings so often that it made it difficult for me to really provide enough support in the beginning with procedures and routines for my students. I'm smart enough to know when something just isn't working and we put it aside.

I am determined to utilize this program in the upcoming year though because I think its sheer simplicity is brilliant. I actually got this idea from Beth Newingham, a 3rd grade teacher in Michigan. (Her site is fab-u-lous by the way, definitely worth checking out!) Beth describes on her site a Math Workshop that she does in her classroom to provide ongoing support, scaffolding and intervention for her students, basically meeting them where they are with math. This idea intrigued me immensely because my district uses Everyday Math just like hers so I could really envision how this would work in my own classroom with my teaching style.

My district mandates a 60-90 minute instructional block for math. They had to concede and give us a minimum of 60 because sometimes it is nearly impossible to get the full 90 minutes in. They would prefer the full 90 minutes at least 4 days per week, however, because it would allow for full implementation of the games and activities that supplement and support the Everyday Math curriculum. While I know it has always been a struggle for me personally to fit in that length of math time, I am determined to find some way to make this model work in my classroom.

With a full 90 minute block, and dividing the children into 3 groups, each group would get roughly 28 minutes of teacher-led group time at least 4 days per week in math (with 2 minutes to transition between groups). Even with a class of 30 children, that's 10 in each small group which provides more ease in assisting children with partner work and scaffolding them during the learning.

There are 3 rotations:
Teacher Led Group -- this is where the children work directly with the teacher on whatever lesson is being taught. The groups change from unit to unit as the needs of the children change based on what is being studied. Children take a pre-test on skills that are secure by the end of the unit so children with some concepts can be grouped together, children with good knowledge about the concept can be grouped together and children who are struggling with the concept are together. (Note: in a perfect world, the children would always fit into an equal number of split groups which we all know will likely never happen...but let's pretend for the sake of this discussion that the world IS perfect.) Each group spends about 25 minutes in direct contact in the teacher-led group to get hands-on support and intervention during the actual instruction of the lesson, to help prevent problems with understanding before they begin.

Seat Work Group -- in this group, children are working independently at their seats or with a partner on the Math Boxes that accompany the lesson and any other math materials they may need to practice. For me, my students would be working on basic skills math concepts here too. A fellow colleague had a whole binder of basic skills (adding, subtracting, basic fractions, etc) worksheets and a screener test so children could practice concepts they were struggling with from earlier grades. When I teach upper elementary, they also have multiplication groups that they work in to practice their facts. These would all be things they would work on during the independent group time.

Games Group -- in this last group, the children would be working with a partner on any of the games that accompany the Everyday Math curriculum. When I was able to do this, they had 2-3 games that they could choose from so that they could practice skills they wanted to work on. The games were always practicing the same type of skill (three digit addition, etc). I was lucky the year I taught 2nd grade that one of my colleagues was cleaning out her cabinets and found an old box of math games that actually complement the Everyday Math games quite nicely so sometimes I would pull those out for the children to play also.

The biggest drawbacks to a model like this are a) having a pretty consistent schedule so you can actually keep the momentum going once it starts, b) being able to give a pre-test and have it graded in order to put children into groups in a timely manner (um, always give the pre-tests on Fridays??) and c) management during the workshop since you want your focus to be on the teacher-led group. C is the easiest to work on, I think, because if you set up your procedures and routines consistently from the beginning and continue to practice, practice, practice, eventually the children are going to know the routine and know that they are going to be held accountable for the work. My biggest issue was A. I was just never in my class consistently enough to make it work with the group I had this year who were very emotionally and socially immature.

I am excited to learn what grade level I will have for next school year so I can really start to plan this out better. I think it is a great idea and could really provide so much support for students who are struggling with a particular concept in math.


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