I’ve taught math many different ways over the past 12 years. I spent many years teaching math to my whole class. Then, my third grade team and I started moving kids around based on ability, and we taught either the “high” kids or the “low” kids. Last year was the first time we tried guided math, and it’s completely changed the way I teach math.

## The History of Math Instruction

### Whole Group

When I first started teaching, whole group math lessons were the way it was done. I stood in front of the class delivering my lesson for 30 minutes.

Half of the class was sleeping.

Then, we started independent practice. The students either got it and were able to do it on their own or they were completely lost and had no clue.

The next day, we continued on to the next lesson, and those students who didn’t “get it” got farther and farther behind.

### Homogeneous Groups

Then, my school was chosen to pilot homogeneous math groups. At the beginning of the year, we looked at all of the students’ math data from second grade and split them into four groups.

- The “high’ group
- The “mid-high” group
- The “mid-low” group
- The “low” group

The two lower groups had a few less students, but you were still trying to teach the content to about 20 students who struggled with math.

The years you got the “high” group, you were golden. The students came to you able to score proficient on the standardized tests.

However, when you got the “low” group, you had a year of stress ahead.

Every lesson was torture!

As soon as you felt successful with one student, you realized you had 19 other students who didn’t understand it.

## Enter Guided Math

The primary grades in my building started using guided math a few years ago. They set up five centers each week.

- Games
- Reading math books
- Technology
- Writing math problems
- Using tools to solve performance tasks

My principal wanted the intermediate grades to try guided math, too. She thought it would help us better meet the needs of our students.

At first, we were skeptical, and we had some concerns.

- The primary teachers weren’t meeting with all of the students every day. Some of the students were just working at the centers if they “got it”. We’ve always worked really hard to challenge our strong math students.
- The primary grades have all year to cover their math content. They were able to spend several weeks introducing this model to their students. In the intermediate grades, we have to get started right away, and we have to cover all of our math content prior to the state tests.

As a result, the five center model of guided math didn’t seem like it would work for us.

## Our Guided Math Model

My team sat down and thought about what our students needed in a math lesson. We came up with a list of four things.

- A lesson with us to practice the new math skill
- Some type of performance task, or application of the skill
- A review of concepts we already covered
- Fact practice.

With these areas in mind, we developed a version of guided math that uses three centers.

### Meet with the Teacher

I think it’s very important for every student to meet with me for a guided group every day.

**Above-Level Group**

This group is made of students who completely understand the concept. I like to help them dig deeper. We do more challenging problems based on the same skill. Sometimes, I look at the fourth grade standards to see the types of problems to give them.

**On-Level Group**

My on-level group usually works though the regular lesson. We have the enVision math program, so this group works through the problems in the textbook. We do a few together, and they solve the rest on whiteboards while I monitor and check.

**Below-Level Group**

This group meets with me first each day. That way I can spend a little bit more time with them if they aren’t understanding the concept. I do a lot of modeling for them, and we work through some problems together before they try a few on their own.

### Problem Solving

The problem solving center is where students complete performance tasks and apply the day’s skill. They work together and talk about the math problems to solve them. The problem solving tasks are differentiated, so there are three different performance tasks for each lesson.

Some days, the students struggle with the problem solving tasks. Then, we go over the problems together in small group the next day.

If the students finish early, the problem solving center is stocked with flash cards and games, so students can review previously-covered concepts.

### Technology

The third center is a technology center. We have Chromebooks for each student.

Even if you don’t have a whole class set of devices, you might have enough for one group of students.

At the technology center, students complete a variety of activities.

- practice their math facts
- review concepts we’ve already covered
- practice the current skill.

You can read about the specific online programs I use at my technology center in my post about the best online math programs.

## Forming Guided Math Groups

The enVision math program is divided into topics. Before each topic, I give the students a few questions about the next topic to see what they already know. I use that data to divide my class into 3 groups.

Usually it works out pretty evenly, and I end up with between 6 and 8 students in each of my groups.

The groups are very flexible. If a student didn’t do well on the pretest, but they are able to answer questions without support in my guided group, I’ll switch them to the on-level group for the next lesson.

## My Guided Math Schedule

I have 75 minutes for math. This is what my math block looks like using guided math.

**Minilesson – 10-15 minutes**

**Rotation 1 – 20 minutes**

Meet with Teacher – Below-level group

Problem Solving – Above-level group

Technology – On-level group

**Rotation 2 – 20 minutes**

Meet with Teacher – On-level group

Problem Solving – Below-level group

Technology – Above-level group

**Rotation 3 – 20 minutes**

Meet with Teacher – Above-level group

Problem Solving – On-level group

Technology – Below-level group

**Exit Ticket – 5-10 minutes**

## Are You Ready to Try Guided Math?

I would love to help you get started with guided math in your classroom.

Download my guided math planning template at the bottom of this post.

Go to my Teachers Pay Teachers store to get my 3-day money guided math lessons. Each lesson includes:

- A minilesson slideshow
- A lesson for each guided group
- Differentiated performance tasks for the problem solving rotation
- Online activities for technology center
- An exit ticket

I’ll be working on outlining the lessons to go with other math standards soon.

Follow my store to get updates on my newest products.

## What Do You Think?

Do you think guided math is the best way to meet the needs of all your math students?

Let me know in the comments below.

### Guided Math Planning Template

Interested in starting guided math, but not sure how to plan for it? Enter your email to receive a FREE download of my guided math planning sheet.

Emily says

I have a class of 25 5th graders, and imagining 8 kids at the back kidney table makes me nervous. Have you tried this many at the back table before? Or where do you meet with your small group?

Tara Dusko says

I have 24 third graders, so we do have groups of 7, 8, or 9. I meet with my students on the carpet so we can spread out more. Then, I divide the groups for the problem solving center, so four or five kids go to my side table and the rest go to the back table. They do technology at their seats, so everyone is pretty spread out.

Mary Chappell says

Wow! I love the way you break this down! I wish I’d had this resource when I was trying to figure out guided math in first grade. What a great resource!

Tara Dusko says

Thanks, Mary! I’m glad you found it helpful!

Stephanie Casey says

Do you pull the “on-level”, “below lever” & “advanced” groups out of the problem solving & technology groups for “teacher directed” center? If so, do they only complete 2 centers a day? I use enVision math too!

Tara Dusko says

My students do all three centers each day. They rotate to each one for about 20 minutes. I use the enVision Hands-On, Minds-On for my minilesson and the last question from the Quick Check as my exit ticket. Most of our time is spent at centers.

Kaleigh says

I’m really interested in this model. We currently do homogenous groups with 27 students, and I teach the low group. It is so stressful. We don’t have TA’s either. Anyway, I digress. Do you do the mini lesson as a whole class and then break into small groups?

Tara Dusko says

Hi Kaleigh! We used to do homogenous groups, and the years I had the low group, I felt like a complete failure. I love the guided math model! I teach the minilesson whole group, and then my students go right to their centers. I meet with one group at a time while they complete the other centers. I hope you get to try it!

Kiersten says

How do you go about starting your high group on problem solving? My principal would see it as “letting them loose” without prior instruction. A collegue had recommended having the high group problem solve based the previous day’s lesson, but I wonder if that gap between instruction and practice would make it more difficult for them.

Tara Dusko says

I use the minilesson to give instruction on the concept we’re focusing on that day. My high students are able to pick up the concept quickly, so they are able to use it for the problem solving center right away. They work together and help each other. My principal loves it because they are applying the math skills without me guiding them. We discuss their task when they meet with me and work through anything they found challenging.