Classroom Solutions > Megan Power > Developmental Grouping in Math

Comments: 10

Developmental Grouping in Math

Have you ever felt that some of your students were completely lost when you were teaching math because the concept was harder then they were ready for, while others got it on the first try? If you answered yes, you might want to consider teaching in ability-leveled math groups.

Several years ago, I was explaining to a parent volunteer how my classroom runs and my philosophy of teaching to each child's level. I shared how I have guided reading and writing groups depending on the skill and developmental level of the students. This way I can reach each child to support and extend the areas of learning they need. As I began talking about math and how I taught the whole class, I realized that my teaching methods for math were not aligned with my philosophy of teaching. It was at that moment that I took another look at how I taught math and how I could better reach my students.

I have been teaching math in developmental groups for four years now and I could never go back to whole class grouping. The results I have seen are astounding, but mostly I feel that each child is getting individual instruction and support in the area or skills they need. I actually find planning for math easier because I can target the exact skills the groups are ready for and pace it accordingly.

My Schedule

15 minutes as a whole class math meeting before the rotations

15 minutes of a lesson with teacher

15 minutes of independent work

15 minutes of hands on explorations with math centers

Because I teach full day kindergarten, I have the benefit of having about 1 hour for math instruction 4 days a week. (I have taught with math groups as a half day kindergarten teacher in about 1/2 hour a day.)


Math Meeting

During our math meeting we will do our calendar along with counting our days of school and other typical calendar activities. This is also my chance to address skills that the whole class is ready for or to review a concept.


15 Minutes of Instruction with Teacher

This is my main teaching opportunity with my students. I work on a variety of skills that the group is ready to learn. What I love best about this is that I can differentiate instruction for my students' levels easily. This gives all students a chance to get the needed time to acquire the skills they need. For example, today with one group I was working on identifying numbers 11-20. We had pictures and were counting to find what number matched the amount in the pictures. My next group was working on subtraction number stories. Using our Promethean Activboard (interactive white board) my students manipulated pictures to act out the number stories. My last group was working on counting money amounts with a variety of coins.


15 Minutes of Independent Work

After working with me, the groups typically go to independent work. During this time they will practice the skills they have just worked on with me or a skill we have practiced previously. This can be a paper and pencil activity with manipulatives or just an extended time to continue what we were doing during our lesson.



15 Minutes of Math Explorations

During this time groups get a chance to explore a variety of math concepts in different centers. We have math tubs with games and activities in many concepts including number sense, counting, addition, subtraction, patterning, geometry, graphing, and measurement. Students love playing these fun games as the explore math concepts together.



Using my time to teach at my students' levels and pace, I have found that my students move faster through the curriculum. I no longer have to hold students back because other students are not ready to move on. My higher group is easily working at a late first grade level at this point of the year. In my district we are piloting a MAPS assessment from NWEA. We just finished the computer based test this week and I am very pleased at the results. I have good amount of my students that scored in the first grade and the end of first grade level. Most of my students are above the national average for the end of kindergarten. I do still have some students that are developmentally on or below grade level as well. I love that each of my groups are getting instruction directly at their levels. If I had been teaching whole class I know I would not have seen these same results.


I find that my students are very focused during this math rotation time. Being short 15 minute time slots takes into consideration my students attention span and keeps them engaged in new activities.These rotations have worked so nicely that even substitutes are able to manage when I am absent.

I hope you find this post helpful and that it inspires you to reflect on your own teaching practices. I would love to hear other ways that you differeniate your instruction to reach all of your students levels in math. Please add a comment and share your experiences so that as we too can learn and grow together.


  • #1 shannon

    Tuesday, March 30, 2010 at 01:00 PM

    My child has gone beyond the first grade standards in math, what would you recommend as an extension that I can do with him over the summer.

    That is great news! Scholastic has some great math resources and activities you can use with him. Also here is a great website that links up a ton of games that you can use for years to come. Good luck and keep challenging him!

  • #2 Krissy

    Tuesday, March 02, 2010 at 10:05 AM

    Math groups sound like a fantastic idea, and something I would love to try. However, we have the EveryDay Math program for kindergarten and 26 students with no assistance. It just seems overwhelming to try and teach in groups - it's difficult enough to manage the whole class. However, thanks for your ideas, and something I would like to look into for next school year. Does your school have an adopted program for math? Do you think this is possible to do with 26 students? Thanks Megan!

    Teaching with 26 children and no help is difficult. My district is looking to go to 30 next year without help because of the budget. It is very sad to hear because it limits our time with our kids. Our district used to use Everyday Math up until last year when we adopted another program. At the kindergarten level we do not use it as much because it is not very good.

    I actually started out doing my math groups using Everyday Math. I think having more students will make teaching math in groups even more a necessity for me. Once you take the lesson/ skill and teach it to different levels it makes the teaching less overwhelming. Since the students are in ability groups they usually catch onto the skill at the same pace making you less crazy about running around helping those that don't get it and trying to give fast finishers more work to keep them busy.

    Another thought that you can try out this year to give you an idea of how to structure your math for next year is to have your whole class lesson like you are doing now 2 or 3 days a week and try the other days in a group setting. You can just do those days as skill days that you notice your students need work on.

    I hope this gives you a few ideas. Let me know if you have any other questions!

  • #3 Connie

    Tuesday, March 02, 2010 at 05:53 AM

    Hello! I really love this idea of math groups, but this year many days I only have about 30 minutes to teach math. You said you taught this way for 1/2 day kindergarten. How did this work? Also, looks like during the first rotation, one group has not met with you, but is doing independent work. Is this work extended from the day before? Hope this make sense! I really love this idea!!

    Thanks for your comment! Yes, my kids that are doing independant work in the first rotation are continuing from the lesson the day before. I have setup my rotations so that my higher ability group is at independant work first. These kids are easily able to transition the activity from the day before and practice it that next day.

    I completely understand your time restraints and how it makes things difficult. When I taught 1/2 day kindergarten I had about 30 minutes as well. You can still do 3 groups and rotate them through the activities or you can split your class into 2 groups if it makes it easier timewise. If you do 2 groups you can have them complete the work and then get into math center/tubs when they are finished. You could also designate certain days such as 3 days a week when they are not working with you they are ddoing the independant work and the other 2 days they are completing math centers. Once you train the kids on transitioning from one activity to the next they can rotate quickly saving you more time for instruction. Any kind of differentiation that you can give them will benefit your students greatly. I hope this helps you out a little more. I think once you give it a try and tweak it to make it work for your style you will love it. Please let me know if you need any oher details or assistance.

  • #4 Anne

    Friday, February 19, 2010 at 07:47 PM

    Hi Megan, I think your advice is very informative and extremely useful. I am in my 27th year as an educator and always looking for fresh ideas or revised old ones. There is a small problem- I'm a visual learner and usually need a hard copy of information. When I log on and attempt to print the info. I always get all the advisors pictures right smack dab in the middle of the text on each page 3 of the article. How do I prevent that ? Thank you- anne

    Thank you for your comment. You have a lot of experience in 27 years and it is so nice to hear that you are still looking for fresh ideas. We would love to hear more comments from you in the future. I am so glad that you are finding our blog useful. I have sent your question on to see if there is anyway that we can make it printable. I will reply again when I know something further.


  • #5 Meg

    Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 10:36 PM

    Hi Megan!

    I have attempted to teach math in small groups - it makes so much sense! I run into a problem though and wondered how you handle it. To figure out exactly where a student is and what challenge they need pertaining to a specific skill I have assumed I need to do a pre-test. We have a pre-test with our series but it is pretty long and takes awhile to do for each chapter. How do you handle finding their exact level for each math skill?

    Thanks! I love your daily lesson break-down and I will be adapting it to my first grade class!

    I am glad that you are giving small group math instruction a try. I think once you get the feel for it, you will love it. I can understand that your chapter pretests can take a while. When forming my groups in the beginning, I do a few informal assessments of basic skills to get a feel for the student's skills and how the child works. Once I start my groups I can quickly see if the pace is too fast or if the level is too hard and I move kids around. This movement continues throughout the year. In fact, I just switched 3 kids groups last week. Once I have the groups determined during my minilessons and their independent work I can start to see gaps and areas that I can challenge them. This would be a great time to give some of the pretests. If you have to follow your curriculum exactly, you can go much quicker through it with your higher group and find areas to extend the skills.
    This year I am fortunate to pilot a kindergarten online MAPs (Measure of Academic Performance assessment from NWEA). This is another way I can determine skills to work on this year. I noticed after giving this assessment this year,I was right on with the grouping and skills of my students. That is one of the benefits of the small group teaching. You are able to understand your students skill level much better.
    I hope this helps you out. Please let me know if you still have questions or if you need any support as you try out math groups. I am sure you will do great and your students will love it and be successful.

  • #6 ededco

    Wednesday, February 03, 2010 at 11:46 AM

    We discuss this type of differentiated instruction and other tips for mathematics instruction at our blog:

    Come join the discussion

    Thanks! I will do that. I always love to read and learn more.

  • #7 Jeremy

    Wednesday, February 03, 2010 at 05:00 AM

    Interesting idea. I wonder though if a significant part of the improvement comes less from the developmental grouping and more from the simple fact that your students are now learning in small groups rotating through short sessions instead of as one large group in a long math lesson.

    Thank you for your comment. The small groups with students getting more attention is a huge help with students' progress. Being developmental groups I can pace my lessons and skills accordingly. If they were mixed groups I would have to make sure that I was working at a correct pace and level for them. I am sure that would work as well but I think it is more effective in ability groups. Thanks for your thoughts though and you are completely right about the small groups being a huge benefit!

  • #8 Claudia

    Tuesday, February 02, 2010 at 02:40 PM


    I think what you're doing is great! I love reading your blogs and getting new ideas from them. Keep up the great work! Your students are lucky to have such a wonderful, creative, dedicated teacher like yourself!

    Thank you for your wonderful compliment and I am very happy that you are getting ideas from this blog. I am sure you are an amazing teacher yourself. Please continue to comment and let me know if you would like any specific topic discussed.

  • #9 Chelsea

    Monday, February 01, 2010 at 08:31 PM

    Hello! Thank you so much for your post. I am struggling with differentiating math in my 1st grade classroom. I currently teach whole group math and do not feel that I am meeting the needs of all my kids. It's very frustrating..I would love to do math groups. Do you meet with each group every day? Could you let me know what your weekly schedule looks like? Thanks so much!!

    I love that you are looking at how you can improve your math instruction! Once you get it going I am sure you will love teaching this way. We start out as a whole class and do our calendar activities or review over a particular skill that is appropriate for the whole class. Then we break into our groups. We rotate after about 15 minutes. This way I do get to meet with each group on a focused interactive minilesson. We rotate 3 times so each group can get to the 3 stations. We do this 4 times a week;. I absolutely love it and see amazing results. I have also done this type of math grouping when I taught 1st grade a few years ago. Let me know if you have any other questions!

  • #10 Jaclyn

    Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 10:50 PM

    My class is set up the same way for math. When I was teaching Title I guided reading before I had my own classroom, I always thought, "Why isn't the same done for math?" It makes so much sense and allows me to cater to my students' needs, which is most important to me.

    Thanks so much for your comment. I love teaching math this way and I really feel that I reach all of my students' needs. I am so happy that you are finding the same results!

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