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5 Research Based Math Instructional Strategies

Updated: Jul 17, 2023

Not only have I myself been a high school math intervention and Algebra 1 teacher at three Title 1 schools, but I’ve observed well over 1,000 secondary math classrooms in my work as a district math coach and my independent client work. And here’s the math instructional strategy I see most often:

20 minutes going over homework

20 minutes direct instruction with students writing notes

20 minutes of worksheet practice

This doesn’t work. Especially if you teach students who struggle with math or students with IEPs in math.

So what are the best math instructional strategies? What are the most effective research based math instructional strategies?

I believe the following five qualities are needed every single day in our middle school and high school math classrooms in order to effectively reach each and every student.

Quality #1: Collaboration

Our students need to collaborate to increase their math achievement, this is true especially of students who struggle with math. Check out the research article to learn more about WHY collaboration is vital, then check out the resource to find out HOW to get students ready for collaboration. All too often we math teachers assume students know how to work collaboratively, but (news flash) they don’t! They need to be explicitly taught how to collaborate and this book gives you great resources to establish that classroom culture.

Quality #2: Real time formative feedback

This is one of the key instructional strategies for teaching math delivery. By formative feedback, I mean getting feedback from students that I use to adjust my instruction in real time to meet their needs as we go through the lesson the first time (and avoid having to re-teach and waste time later down the road when my students unit test scores tank). In his book, Embedded Formative Assessment, author Dylan William states, “Students with which the teachers used formative assessment techniques made almost twice as much progress over the year.” I don’t know about you, but that’s what my students need!

Quality #3: Accountability

What I mean by accountability is, if you ask students to do a problem, what accountability is there for them to actually do it? If you just go over every problem, there is no accountability. If you just set them loose to work on their own pace, there is also no accountability. Without accountability our classroom results in blank stares during practice, no homework completion, and tests filled with “IDK.” The book resource linked here will give you practical tips to try in your classroom to increase student accountability.

Quality #4: Cold calling

Of all the qualities listed here, cold calling is one of the most effective math instructional strategies. And yes, I mean cold calling like pulling popsicle sticks to get students to answer. In his book, Teach Like a Champion, author Doug Lemov says, “In order to make engaged participation the expectation, call on students regardless of whether they have raised their hands.” And while there has been some discord about the strategies in the book, I feel cold calling is single handedly responsible for my students' incredible math achievement. If you’re nervous about cold calling and think, “but my students have math anxiety! This sounds horrible!” I encourage you to check out this blog post about how to get started with cold calling the right way with students who struggle with math.

Quality #5: Gradual release of responsibility

Another hot topic in math education is inquiry based versus explicit instruction. Pretty even with cold calling is gradual release of responsibility as one of the best Math instructional strategies in my opinion. BUT (and I mean capital BUT) gradual release of responsibility (better known as I do, we do, you do) is often misused and taken to mean 20 minutes of I do, 20 minutes of we do, and then 20 minutes of you do. That doesn’t work! What does work is cycles of 1 I do, 1 we do, 1 you do problems throughout the period. You can learn more about my take on gradual release of responsibility in math over in this blog post.

Bringing them all together

Whether you’re in search of math teaching strategies high school or middle school math instructional strategies, if you teach students who struggle, I want you to know that you can make your math lessons engaging, collaborative, easy to plan, and enjoyable to teach… no matter what type of students you’re teaching!

You can take all of these research based math instructional strategies and piece together a system that works, or you can check out my FREE mini-workshop on the method I created that combines all five of these qualities to increase student engagement, collaboration, and achievement all while saving you massive amounts of planning time. It’s called the Math Wars™ Method and you can register for free by clicking here.

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