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.
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.)
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.