For the past several weeks, we have been sharing ideas about number sense in middle school and discussing how students who struggle with math concepts generally also struggle with number sense. If your campus implements the RTI (response to intervention) process, then you know these students who struggle need a Tier 2 intervention. Today, I want to share some ideas on how to get started with math intervention.
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From our survey of teachers who are responsible for math intervention, I learned that math intervention takes on quite a few different forms. From utilizing class time, to dedicated classes, to an interventionist pulling students across campus, there are many iterations of the same attempt at a solution.
However, some of the biggest struggles that teachers identified were, “I just don’t know the best place to start,” or “Where should I start?” or “What is the most important thing to start with?”
I also really resonated with the fact that principals know there are students who are not on grade level, and they know that something needs to be done, but the general consensus was that there is little direction or support given to these intervention classes. I can relate.
Let me tell you my story…
For three years, I taught a targeted math intervention class to students who did not master the previous grade-level content. These students were assigned to a second math class of the day, and I was tasked with the responsibility of planning for this class in addition to my on-level and pre-AP classes. The first year was a terrible flop. I was overwhelmed with the needs of my six other classes and felt that this last class seemed to get the very last bit of me. I struggled to plan for it, and no one offered any better solutions.
By the second year, I knew I had to be better prepared and spent the summer planning and organizing. A co-teacher was added to that class, and we eventually began dabbling with small groups. There was traction, I had fewer behavior challenges, my students were more motivated, and I was less overwhelmed. I still didn’t have great resources, but I was making myself (and my co-teacher) more of a resource. By year three, I added technology stations and some number sense activities and continued to work with small groups. I also added pre-teaching to my mix.
It was still far from perfect, but there was so much progress from that first year… I started to believe in small groups and saw students gain confidence and a deeper understanding. My students were performing sooo much better, and I could see their behavior change in our on-level class.
I tell you all of this to say that I have been there feeling like I didn’t know where to start. You aren’t alone, and if I could connect the hundreds of teachers who contact me, we would be like one giant support group. 🙂
Here are my best suggestions for getting started.
How to Get Started with math Intervention
1. Use the data you have
One of the questions that I get also surrounds universal screeners and what data to use. I think that because of the RTI model and the general culture of schools, we can be obsessed with data (anyone have a data wall, a data binder, and data meetings?). The reality is we likely have more data than we need, so use what you have. If it’s a local district benchmark, then look at the data to identify the skills needed to solve the question and target those skills.
Intervention is skill-based.
A curriculum is standards-based.
You cannot intervene on a standard; they are too large and not targeted enough for a student to be able to show mastery.
2. Build the relationship
If I had to nail the most pivotal aspect of math intervention, it would be the relationship. Middle school is a tough age as it is: now imagine having struggled in a class that you have to go to each and every day. You have likely struggled for years, and yet you don’t get to opt out. If you think of it from your students’ perspective, then you likely will have just a bit more compassion when they are off-task or giving up.
My most favorite ways to build a relationship:
- Greet students at the door
- Compliment a student: “I like your new haircut” or “I saw you perform in the pep rally– way to go!”
- Ask questions
- Assume the best
- Teach them how to use their voice
3. Don’t wait for perfect behavior
I mentioned earlier that I started using small groups. What I didn’t mention was that my students’ behavior was not perfect. If I waited for perfect behavior, then I would still be waiting.
You know your students best, so I would say group them the best you can and set high expectations of what you would like to see. It will not go perfectly. Then, change up the groups and see if that helps. Offer an incentive for staying on-task or showing their work.
4. Do the best you can with what you are given
Another highly mentioned item on the survey was the general lack of resources. I totally agree, and that is why we are trying to solve that problem for you (and your students). However, do the best you can with what you are given. In a dream world, we would all be provided with excellent resources by schools and districts. In the real world, I would encourage you to use the resources you have to begin working with your students in a small group and a targeted manner. I personally think a personal whiteboard, a dry erase marker, and math manipulatives are an excellent starting place for a small group.
Do you have any suggestions for how to get started with math intervention? Please share your thoughts in the comments.