Many teachers have tried teaching using small groups. However, they think that math groups are too complicated and tend of quit before Thanksgiving comes around. Their math groups may not have been successful, because they really weren’t teaching guided math. Guided math is more than just putting up a cute rotations board and grouping students. Read about 5 reasons why math groups aren’t successful and how you can avoid these mistakes.
1. YOU’RE STILL FOLLOWING THE BOOK
The resources you have been using to teach whole group will not work for small groups. Why? Math textbooks are jam packed with problems. If you attempt to complete one lesson during small groups, you will find that you quickly run out of time.
You will then feel like you are falling behind on your curriculum map. Soon, you may decide to stop small groups because you feel there is no way you can cover everything come testing time.
HOW TO AVOID THIS PROBLEM: You don’t have to throw away your textbook (or stuff it in a cubby). The answer is quality over quantity. Don’t be afraid to spend 15/20 minutes on two problems. Usually, the textbook gives an introductory word problem. We complete this one together. I then have students complete the second word problem on their own. Next thing I know, it’s time to switch groups. It’s okay. Your students are completing quality questions that require them to think deeply and explain their thinking. This is more important than working out 20 problems.
2. YOU’RE GIVING STUDENTS THE ANSWERS
I have found that most students who struggle in math are afraid to make mistakes. These are the students that tell me…. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t understand the problem. What am I supposed to do?”. They want me to walk them through the entire problem. They want to learn “the steps”, so they can copy the steps and get the problems right.
I tell my students that I can’t help them unless they get the problem wrong. How will I know how to help them if I don’t know where they are struggling? They eventually begin to feel comfortable with making mistakes and learning from them.
HOW TO AVOID THIS PROBLEM: The first step is to stop giving them the answers. If they say they are confused, they still need to attempt the problem. This takes time. You need to work from the first day of school to create an environment where students are comfortable taking risks. Your classroom needs to be a place where students know mistakes are a sign of learning. They need to feel comfortable talking with each other about their confusion and celebrating each other’s success.
3. YOU DON’T USE MANIPULATIVES.
There are several reasons why teachers may not use manipulatives. Some may think there is no point in using them since students can’t use them during tests. Some may think they are a waste of time and cause more problems than help.
HOW TO AVOID THIS PROBLEM: You don’t have to use manipulatives with the entire class at the same time. You can use manipulatives during small groups. Using manipulatives during small groups will ensure that students learn how to properly use them. You can quickly see which students understand the concept and don’t need to use them any longer.
4. YOUR CENTERS ARE TOO COMPLICATED.
This is one of the biggest concerns for teachers. What will the other students be doing? What if they need help? What if they finish too quickly? Many teachers find that they are spending too much time helping the students that are at math centers. When this happens, they feel like they are wasting time and think whole group instruction is a better way to stay on top of their curriculum map.
HOW TO AVOID THIS PROBLEM: You don’t need a complicated rotations board. I have found that 3 rotations is simple and easy to follow. What are my stations? Teacher, Independent, Computer
You don’t need to spend countless hours laminating math games for independent centers. What you need is simple, easy to follow math centers. Centers that are focused on the standards, so you can easily pick skills that you have already taught.
I have used math sorts for the past 2 years, and they are by far THE best math centers I have used in my 10 years of teaching. They cover all common core math standards, so I can easily pick one that covers a standard we have already learned. They are easily differentiated, and encourage students to use math talk in order to discuss how they organized their cards. Click here to view 2nd Grade, 3rd Grade, 4th Grade, and 5th Grade math sorts.
5. YOU’RE NOT BEING FLEXIBLE.
Please don’t think math centers will be the magic answer. They are not perfect and are never the same. This is why I think pre-made rotations boards are sometimes a waste of time. They make you feel like math workshop will be this perfect thing that you complete each and every day. They don’t leave room for the reality of what is teaching. Teaching is not perfect and you need to be flexible.
Sometimes you will complete one station and then you have a fire drill. Sometimes you start one station and you realize that these students need more than 15 minutes, so you spend 30 minutes. Sometimes you need to give students those beginning of the year assessments, so you don’t have time for math stations one week. Sometimes you realize that it’s just not working out, so you need to stop and gather everyone together and have a discussion. All of that is okay. You just adjust the next day.
HOW TO AVOID THIS PROBLEM: You need to know that guided math is not perfect. It is not easy. It takes time. You need to model expectations, students need to practice, and you need to practice. It does gets better with time. The best part? You will be reaching each and every student. You will be right there understanding exactly what students are weak in. You will know exactly when your students ‘get it’ and need enrichment. You will be giving quality instruction instead of just teaching students the steps. Students will enjoy math and you will be so proud of how much they grow.