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
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.
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.
- Reading math books
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Find out how to incorporate problem solving into every math lesson.
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.
- 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.
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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.