How I'm Managing a Split-Level Math Class (Guided Math)

No matter what type of class we teach, we always have a range of levels that requires many levels of differentiation. I know. It's a challenge that all teachers face.

However, I'm facing a new challenge this year: a split-level math class.

For me, that means half of my class is starting at the beginning of the third grade curriculum (place value and rounding), while the other half is starting halfway through the third grade curriculum (area and perimeter) and will begin fourth grade curriculum in January.

YIKES.

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I know the gradual release model to scaffold students towards independence. I know how to differentiate to meet the needs of different abilities and learning styles. I know how to pull small groups for remediation and enrichment. But teaching a class two totally different, practically unrelated content units? This is new for me.

I stressed about it all summer, asking WHY and then WHY ME?

Well, I've been in the trenches for two weeks. I've failed a lot. I've had many discussions with my students about how adults problem-solve too by trying new things and occasionally having to scrap ideas to try and find something better. It's been a learning experience for all of us. Math is my favorite, and I'm determined to keep it that way. 


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As I shared my fears with you on Instagram, you asked me some questions about my newly-structured math block:


Why is this a thing? - Heather

Girl, you are speaking my language! I DON'T KNOW!

Okay, I do know. My district does something called "continuous achievement." Basically, students take math placement tests that place them at the level they are currently learning at. There are three levels of this model: on level, advanced, and accelerated.

Last year, I taught the advanced math class and I loved every minute of it.

This year I'm teaching advanced again... but half of the class is on level.

It's all about meeting students where they are.


What curriculum are you using? - Alison

My school adopted McGraw Hill's MyMath curriculum last year. Before that, we didn't have a curriculum, so we've used MyMath as more of a supplement for our other resources. We use some resources provided by the district as well as resources that we find on our own. We follow our district's pacing guide, which actually doesn't even match up with MyMath! #frustrating

How did you start your centers and small groups? - KC

Very slowly! We didn't do any rotations for the first week of school. During that week, we did "math about me" activities and other review activities to start of interactive notebook and classwork procedures. As a whole class, I taught them how to play some simple multiplication games (applicable to both groups), how to access my online resources, and to always check the board for the next instructions. When we started trying small groups, students completed independent activities that they were already familiar with.

As far as creating the groups, I was honest with my students. We talked about how everyone has different needs and therefore will be learning different things. I chose colors for the groups - green and orange - to match the workbooks. Trying to make this thing as easy as possible! (Sidenote: This is already driving me crazy because orange is my least favorite color!) I allowed the groups to name themselves, so now I have the Lizards and the Tigers.

On my classroom Symbaloo, I have my math blocks color-coded. Green buttons are for the Lizards, orange buttons are for the Tigers, and blue is for both.


Do you see every group every day? What does your schedule look like? - Kayla

Yes, that's the plan. I have to teach both groups a full year's worth of curriculum, so I have to meet with them daily in order to stay on pace! My math block is only 75 minutes long. We start with a spiral review to warm up, then the goal is for each group to get 30 minutes of direct/guided instruction each day.


At first, I was projecting the rotations on my board. I quickly realized that I wanted to use my board to teach my groups, but then the independent workers couldn't see their tasks. DUH. *facepalm* Thus, the guided math poster was born.

I made it by gluing and labeling colored paper, then laminating it. I write daily tasks each morning with dry erase marker. I find it really helpful to let students know what they will need for my small group so that they can get prepared quickly and independently.

 


Do you level independent work activities while you are working in small groups? - Stefani

Yes and no. Right now, independent activities are leveled solely based on group placement. Students pick up their independent work from a labeled try, and turn their work in to a tray that matches their color.

I plan to eventually provide even more enrichment to students who need it in the future once we get in the swing of things, probably through digital tools like Seesaw and Nearpod.



What are you using for centers? - Katie

I use the gradual release model, so the first thing students are doing is independently practicing the new skill. So far, this usually involves a...

  • workbook page
  • interactive notebook page
  • district activity
  • Nearpod
  • Seesaw assignment

In case anyone finishes early, because they will,  I'll usually give them a followup task like...

  • iReady (adaptive math program)
  • online games (color-coded on Symbaloo)
  • practice multiplication facts (flash cards, online games, dice, card games)

How are you tracking data? - Alison

I'm tracking data the same way I did when I taught a regular math class, I'm just keeping everything separate as if it's two different classes... because it is!

  • I use exit tickets or quick checks to see which students have grasped a new concept and which need more support. 
  • I like to keep track of pretest and posttest scores for each unit so I can compare them. I do this on the checklist pages in the back of my planner. 
  • iReady is an adaptive program that my district provides, which will give me lots of data!
  • My district takes FastBridge (a screener) three times a year. 

Is there a professional book you would recommend reading before implementing guided math? - Karen

I haven't read any, but another Instagram friend, Mike, actually sent me some suggestions! (Thanks Mike, you're the GOAT!) Authors Laney Simmons and Donna Boucher have written a few books about guided math. Mike suggested Guided Math: A framework for Mathematics Instruction, Guided Math Workstations, and Guided Math Workshop. All can be found on Amazon and are relatively affordable. I've added them to my Amazon list of books for teachers, along with some of my personal favorites for teaching math.


Still have questions for me? Leave them in a comment below, and I'll get back to you ASAP!


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