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Math Instructional Strategies

Let me share a bit about my first year of teaching with you. Year 1 was a rude awakening. I was teaching Math Intervention and Algebra 1 in South Central Los Angeles and while I chose to teach in South Central, it was a very different classroom experience than I had experienced in my own white, upper middle class neighborhood.

Here’s how I thought it was supposed to go. Direct instruction → Worksheet practice → Homework. Students would sit quietly and take notes then practice the problems I gave them promptly and with excitement.

Instead, what I was met with was:

➤ Blank stares

➤ No collaboration and super passive students

➤ Feeling frustrated and disheartened everyday at work

➤ Spending hours of my weekend lesson planning

Can you relate to this experience?

I was desperate to learn math teaching strategies, but especially math instructional strategies for struggling students. Because not only were my students struggling with math, so was I.

I stuck with it. I worked in South Central for two years then moved to northern California and taught at a large comprehensive title 1 school in East San Jose and eventually would move to Denver, Colorado and teach high school intervention math and integrated math 1 (with a stint in the middle there as a district math coach and TOSA). I tried all sorts of instructional strategies in math over the years and I finally found what works.

By my fifth year in the classroom:

➤ My students were collaborating every day

➤ There was a sense of urgency to complete math problems

➤ My students were actively participating

➤ I was getting real time formative feedback for me to adjust my lesson in real time to meet their needs

➤ I felt energized and accomplished everyday at work

➤ I had developed a streamlined method that took 10 minutes a day to plan

I went from overworked and disheartened over student success to a relaxed and confident intervention math teacher with thriving students!

Now, let’s find out how you can get there too…

The Problem

Problem #1: No accountability to complete problems during lesson or practice

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.”

Problem #2: Stand and deliver then practice

I have been in well over 1,000 secondary math classrooms in my client work and the most common thing I see is teachers delivering a lesson for 20 minutes then assigning classwork for 20 minutes. When that’s how we learned math, it’s all we know to do. But there is something better. When we stand and deliver then assign worksheet practice, it results in passive, disruptive, anxious students.

Problem #3: Small group work has no accountability amongst group members

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard a teacher say, “ok, now work with your group on problems 1-10” and then watched as students worked independently or completely gave up. We need to explicitly teach our students how to work in groups and we need to give them an assignment worthy of collaboration. When we don’t, it results in classrooms with absolutely no collaboration.

The Goal

Goal #1: Increase authentic collaboration

If you’re constantly hearing, “Ay Miss, is this right?” or “Mister, what do I do?” we need to increase authentic collaboration in our math lessons so that students are getting help from each other, not just waiting for you.

Goal #2: Gather real-time formative checks for understanding

So many of us felt like our lessons went well only to give our unit test and realize the majority of our class has no idea what’s going on. We need to gather real-time formative feedback and checks for understanding so that you can adjust your lesson in real time to meet your students needs. Not after the fact when the test comes and it’s too late.

Goal #3: Active participation of all students

Another common situation in most math classes is hearing the teacher ask a question expecting an eager choral response to a question like, “a negative times a positive is a ???” only to be met with a sea of students on their phones and the sound of crickets. Instead, we want classrooms with active participation so that you’re no longer getting those demoralizing blank stares.

The Solution

There is a solution! It’s a math instructional strategy called The Math Wars Method™. You can learn more about it in this free mini-workshop, or read more about it below.

Step 1: Set up

  • Classroom set up in groups or pairs

  • A place on board to track team points during period

  • An area to visibly randomly choose students to participate

Step 2: Plan content

  • Intentionally and strategically chunk content of similar difficulty together in blocks of 3-4 questions for each block

  • Aim to get through 2-4 blocks of content in each period

Step 3: Student Notes

  • Print or create blank graphic organizers to keep students organized, but not visually overwhelmed for each and every lesson

Step 4: Instruction

  • Use the combination of gradual release of responsibility with collaboration and cold call (the Math Wars™ Method) to check for understanding and gather real time formative feedback in a fun, engaging, and competitive way

  • Assign team points for correct answers (optional: offer a reward at the end of the period)

Find out all the details in the Math Wars Method™ Free Mini-Workshop.

The results

What can utilizing this 4-step approach really achieve?

This was my Algebra 1 repeaters class semester 1 final scores on a district benchmark test. They had all failed Algebra 1 as 9th graders and were repeating it with me their 10th grade year. This success is possible because I achieved each of the instructional goals outlined above by using powerful math teaching strategies from the Math Wars Method™

The Math Instructional Strategies FREE mini-workshop

If you’re looking for math instructional strategies for struggling students, you need to check out my free on-demand workshop that will take you through the Math Wars Method and help you save massive amounts of planning time and create lessons that increase student engagement, collaboration, and achievement with the signature 4-step Math Wars™ Method

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