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Math Intervention


math intervention blog post

I have seen first hand the power of setting high expectations of grade level content with students and I will never go back. I have seen the power of saying to a group of students who have been historically unsuccessful in mathematics, I believe you can do grade level math so I’m going to teach you grade level math,” and I will never go back to teaching solely remedial content. I have truly been where you are, in a classroom full of students who have failed math for multiple years, and I have tried something that made me uncomfortable and unsure, but it was the best thing I could have ever done for my students. 


It turns out this style of teaching math interventions has a name coined by Juli Dixon called “Just in time Scaffolding” and it refers to teaching prior grade level content just in time for the grade level content. This is in comparison to just in case scaffolding where we teach all of the prior grades content just in case the students have not mastered the concepts. You can check out my previous blog post, Intervention Math to learn more about the difference between the two methods. I believe just in case scaffolds or interventions communicate low expectations to students and that just in case intervention will not increase equitable math outcomes for our students who need the most support. Instead I argue that a just in time approach is needed if we are to truly work to close the math achievement gap.


In this blog post I will outline my just in time math intervention model for you to apply in your own classroom.



just in time math intervention model


Math Intervention Step 1: Focus

The first step in planning just in time math intervention is to fine tune your grade level focus. As mentioned earlier, to make time to provide the just in time supports, you will not be able to get through all of the material so instead you must focus on only the content that is essential. You can do this a few different ways. Some schools and districts have already identified key standards or essential standards for each grade level or content level so check with your administration to see if that document exists. Similarly, some states have already identified key standards or essential standards for each grade level or content level so check on your state website. Lastly, one of my favorite resources can currently be found over at www.achievethecore.org. In 2021 they released their “Priority Standards” for K-8 and a separate document for High School mathematics. Even if this resource is a bit dated, it will still be a wonderful starting point to help you identify the content to focus on and the content you’ll need to be okay with letting go. Don't want to recreate the wheel? You can download my done for you documents for 6th, 7th, 8th, and Algebra 1 here.


Once you have your essential content identified I encourage you to make a list of those standards. If you have a textbook or curriculum resource, list out the units and chapters then add the essential standards within each section. This will help you see what to focus on within your curriculum and what you can let go of. If you don’t have a textbook or curriculum resource, still list out the essential content and then find example problems for each of the essential standards. This is a wonderful opportunity to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help you come up with grade level examples that illustrate the essential content standard. Check out my blog post, AI for Math Teachers, for some great ideas. 


math intervention free pdf download


Step 2: Gaps

Now that you have your list of essential focus content it is time to brainstorm the gaps students might have in order to master those essential standards. This is where any diagnostic data would be helpful, but I caution you to not rely on it too heavily as it tends to overwhelm us, sadden us, and has the potential to (subconsciously) lower our expectations of what our students can do.


If you’re creating your own list of essential standards, get ready to make another column next to your essential content - or you can download my done for you documents for 6th, 7th, 8th, and Algebra 1 here. In this second column you want to brainstorm the gaps you anticipate your students might have as they work up to the grade level content.


I’ll use Algebra 1 as an example. Multi-step equations are the grade level content, but I know my students likely struggle with combining like terms, distributing, solving one step equations, and solving two step equations. Those gaps are not the grade level standard, but they need those skills to reach the grade level standard. You will need to go through all of the essential content and ask yourself, what gaps might my students have from prior years that they need to achieve success at this grade level standard? 


Step 3: Plan

Now that you’ve fine tuned your grade level focus and identified the prior grade level skills that might be missing or weak, it’s time to plan how to fit it all in. There are two types of teachers reading this post and they each have a slightly different path in this plan section so let’s dig in for both types. 


The first are intervention teachers. Maybe these teachers teach an additional math period or maybe these teachers pull out students or push in to math classes to provide interventions. If this is you, focus on the list of skills you created in the gap step. Your plan is to teach those gap skills that will help students be successful in their grade level math class. I highly suggest also teaching the grade level content as well so that students can get additional exposure and see additional ways of understanding the grade level math, but at a minimum, create a plan to teach the skills students might be struggling with from prior grade levels that will help them be successful with their grade level content. You don’t need to teach everything from prior grades, just the content that is going to help them be successful with grade level content.


The second group of teachers are the grade level teachers that have a lot of students who are multiple grade levels behind in their class. These are the 7th grade teachers with a lot of students who are scoring at a 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade level. These are the Algebra 1 teachers with students who haven’t passed a math class since elementary school. For this group of teachers you have a more challenging and time consuming plan. You need to plan to teach the gaps skills just in time, or just ahead of, the grade level content.


For example, going back to the multi-step equation example I used in step 2, now that I’ve identified the gap content I need to plan to teach that gap content right before I teach the grade level content. I’m providing the intervention just in time for the grade level content. I’ll plan for a day of combining like terms, a day of distributive property review, a day for solving one step equations, and maybe two days for solving two step equations just before, or just in time, for the next day’s lesson to be the grade level content of solving multi-step equations. You can really see how this takes extra time. Just in time intervention is not a quick fix, it’s not easy, but it will get you better results and create a classroom of more engaged, motivated, and confident mathematicians. 


There are a few key points I want to address, especially for the grade level teachers who have many students scoring below grade level in their classrooms. The first is don’t take too long on the gap content. As an instructional coach I’ve been in well over 100 math classrooms and one thing that is all too common is to walk into an Algebra 1 class in December and see the teacher still going over basic operations. I get it, students are struggling with fact fluency and come to us in high school not knowing how to multiply. We do need to spend some time reviewing basic operations, however we don’t need to take months or even weeks to do it. We definitely need to review and reteach basic skills with students who struggle with math, but we can take a day or two to reteach multiplication and division and another day or two to reteach adding and subtracting with negatives, and then we need to move on. Those skills are part of every single lesson moving forward so students will have plenty of time to master them as you move forward with grade level content. Remember that the biggest benefit of just in time intervention is that it communicates that you have high expectations to students.

You can’t tell students “I believe you can do grade level content” and then spend a month - or more - doing math they’ve seen and failed, seen and failed. You have to move on, tell them you believe in them, give them a calculator, and believe that they will master these fluency skills with time.

Step 4: Teach

Finally once we’ve identified our grade level focus standards, brainstormed the gaps, and created a plan to teach the prior grade level content just in time for the grade level content, it’s finally time to teach! I believe is the most effective model for teaching math to students who are multiple grade levels behind is my Math Wars Method® - you can learn more in this free mini-workshop - but for now the most important thing we must do when we teach just in time intervention is do true formative assessment every single day with our students to ensure they are understanding the content in real time. Without utilizing formative assessment strategies every single day, the math achievement gap will continue to widen. So what is this true formative assessment? I like to call it true formative assessment because I think the definition of formative assessment has gotten watered down and it’s important that if we want to be a gatebreaker, we understand the true definition of formative assessment. In his book, Embedded Formative Assessment, author Dylan William defines formative assessment as,

“Encompassing all those activities undertaken by teachers, and/or by their students, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged.”

Educators largely tend to think of formative assessment as a quiz or test, that meets the criteria of the first part of that definition, however if we want to achieve all of the benefits of formative assessment - of which there are many - we need to pay particular attention to the end of that definition, “to modify the teaching and learning activities.” If we want to close the achievement gap using just in time intervention we must teach the content in a way that allows us to collect formative assessment throughout our period and modify our instruction in real time depending on the needs of the particular students sitting in front of us. That probably sounds overwhelming. Modifying our plans in real time like that sounds exhausting. That’s why my Math Wars Method® will be a game changer. This true formative assessment is built into the method and I’ve streamlined it to be easier than you think. You can learn more in this free mini-workshop.


Closing

What do you think about this style of math intervention? Send me a DM on Instagram and let me know! While this style of intervention may seem overly challenging, I promise I wouldn’t be recommending it if I hadn’t seen the benefits of it first hand. I have taught all types of intervention math classes and using a just in time approach is by far the most effective.


math intervention free pdf download

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