Updated: Sep 6
I’ve been a high school math intervention teacher at 3 different schools. I’ve been told to teach below grade level, at grade level, and everything in between to my students struggling with math. There are so many options when it comes to how to structure your middle school math intervention programs or your high school math intervention programs that it can be totally overwhelming to choose one path to take. Math interventionists can be used in so many different ways it’s difficult to know what’s best for your school or your program. You might even be wondering, what is math intervention? In my current role as an independent math intervention specialist I get hired by schools and districts to help with this exact dilemma:
How do I organize and structure our math intervention program?
It’s not a simple answer. In this post I’m sharing about the 4 most common math intervention program structures I’ve seen and giving pros and cons of all of them. Keep reading to find all the details. I’ve been able to help my students and the students of the thousands of teachers I serve achieve success with their math intervention program and I can’t wait to share some ideas with you.
Before we dig in I want to share one thing about math intervention programs. Lots of administrators ask me for recommendations about curricula and online programs they should purchase for their math interventionist or math intervention programs. But the truth is, I don’t think it’s about a curriculum or an online program. I think it’s about equipping the math intervention teachers with pedagogy and strategies that make math accessible and engage all students. That cannot be achieved with a curriculum or online program. That can only be achieved with high quality professional development and training for teachers. So while I’m happy to offer ideas and recommendations for curriculum (because teachers do need something to work with!), I’d rather empower teachers with the ability to understand their students' gaps and be able to create their own plan for exactly what their students need through math professional development.
What it is: A math teacher or math interventionist pulls students out of their scheduled math class. This can be fluid, the math interventionist can pull out students as requested by the main math teacher. Or it can be more structured, everyday the math interventionist pulls out the same students from their scheduled math class. This could be for a set time frame, like 4 or 6 weeks, or as needed by the department.
Benefits: Students get just in time remediation and help with their grade level math content course in a small group setting.
Challenges: It can be difficult to build rapport with groups of students that are constantly changing. If the math interventionist is pulling out students from multiple core math classes at the same time, it can also be challenging because each core math teacher may not be in the same location of the pacing calendar (if there even is one).
Structure Tip: Start each pull out math intervention segment with a get to know you question that sparks discussion and helps build community with the students you have that day. “Would you rather” questions work well, for example: Would you rather go on vacation to Europe or on a tropical beach? Once everyone has answered the warm up question, move on to math supporting the content, this will help students feel more comfortable sharing their work and mathematical thinking later in the period.
What it is: A math teacher or math interventionist pushes into the core grade level math class and assists students who are struggling with math. The math interventionist might work with a small group of students during a math workshop time chunk or might assist as needed during whole group instruction and independent work.
Benefits: The students who are struggling with math don’t feel singled out by being called into another classroom for support and instead get to stay with their peers in their scheduled math class.
Challenges: It can be hard for math interventionists to give the students the support they truly need in a large class setting.
Structure Tip: Don’t be timid with your support as a push in math interventionist. Asking questions like, “How are you doing?” and “Do you need help?” are not helpful. Instead, crouch down with them, look at their work and ask questions like, “Tell me how you got ____” and “This looks great, what might the next step be?”
Additional math period
What it is: Students who are identified as “at risk” in math are given a math support or math intervention period in addition to their core grade level math course.
Benefits: Additional practice with mathematics each day!
Challenges: This model has some challenges for the students as well as the teachers. For the students, they often dislike mathematics in general and now have two periods of math each day. This can drive students to ditch one or both math classes often. For teachers, it can be challenging to find or create a curriculum or find math intervention activities to use during the additional intervention math period. A whole period of math facts will just demoralize older students and if the students all have different core math teachers it can be challenging to come up with a support curriculum that stays on pace with the core class.
Structure Tip: Just because your students are struggling with math facts and fluency (fractions, multiplication, positive and negative numbers, etc), DO NOT spend the whole year teaching content that is multiple grade levels behind. Instead, always try to teach grade level standards, leaving extra time to fill in gaps. Achieve the core has some great resources for this.
Math Intervention as the only math period
What it is: Students are assigned only one math period in the day and teachers are to teach content from previous grade levels to catch the students up to be ready for the grade level math class the following year.
Benefits: Students without the prerequisites needed for their grade level are given an opportunity to master their basic skills before getting overwhelmed.
Challenges: To my knowledge, in most states, this is actually illegal. And in my experience, this type of intervention doesn’t work for two main reasons. For one, students who are in 9th grade have likely failed math for all of middle school, yet are now again getting 6th grade content. They’ve already failed that class once, why would they want to try again? Secondly, it’s demoralizing for students to be repeating 6th grade content as a 9th grader. It gives them no motivation to put in any effort.
Structure Tip: If you’re being asked to teach a class like this, respectfully tell your administration that you’ll be teaching grade level content and filling in gaps as needed instead utilizing the math intervention strategies listed below.
Personal success story: My fifth year in the classroom I was given a 9th grade math intervention class like this. I was to create my own content and just “fill in” all their gaps from years and years of math failure. Instead I chose to teach the integrated math 1 curriculum I was teaching in my other grade level core classes (and hey... less preps from me!). Yes, we covered about 1 unit less than my core classes because of the additional support and practice that was needed, but they ended up taking the exact same rigorous exams as my grade level classes and you know what? They scored just as well (in one period they actually scored higher) as my grade level classes. Bottom line: Intervention students can do math just as well as your grade level students, you just have to believe in them. Unwaveringly. They have to believe you believe they can do it and they will.
Want more tips?
Access my free PDF guide, 10 Powerful & Easy Math Intervention Strategies, and start seeing a difference in your students tomorrow! If you teach students who struggle with math, whether you’re a math intervention strategies for middle school or high school math intervention strategies, I’ve got you covered!