Making Math TIme Work!

  • by Kelly Harmon & Randi Anderson
  • Sept. 13, 2018, 10:23 a.m.

A balanced math program includes time to develop and practice conceptual and procedural knowledge to proficient levels. Fitting it all in is a challenge, especially when you have a limited amount of time.

One way to think of it would be dividing your math minutes in half.

Designate half of the time you have for Math each day to whole class teaching of standards-based lessons and providing guided practice in heterogeneous groups. You can start off with a five to ten minute math talk so that students can warm up their math brains with a little computation practice. Next, launch into the teaching points, the guided practice related to the learning target(s), and the success criteria for the day. End this part of the block with a quick formative assessment to determine who has hit the daily target and who needs more coaching.

With the remaining half of the time, allow students to work in small teams or independently in math stations (also called centers). These should keep them practicing the skills and strategies for which they already have conceptual knowledge, but need more practice in order to become 100% fluent.

For example, four core stations might be 1) problem solving, 2) computation, 3) writing in math, and 4) vocabulary. As the year progresses, add stations that engage students in cumulative practice of the skills and strategies from the units they’ve experienced (i.e. measurement, geometry, etc.).

Take time at the beginning of the year to thoroughly teach and practice working at a station. Students need clear expectations of what to do and how to do it.

Allowing students to work in small groups before they can stay engaged for ten to fifteen minutes in a station alone is likely to become chaotic.

I love how Mrs. Buchanan, a 4th grade teacher in Tyler, Texas has organized standards-based practice stations using ice cube buckets (see pictures below). Each bucket contains several activities that will provide practice related to the learning targets. She has used the activities during focus lessons, guided practice, and in small groups before placing them in the buckets.

While students are practicing for proficiency, meet with students to confer individually or allow them to work in small groups for close monitoring and coaching. Conferring sessions generally take about five minutes per student. You can confer with more than one student at a time. This is a great time to gather data by having students explain their thinking as they work through a short problem.

Small group instruction should take about ten minutes per group. It helps to set a timer so that groups don’t get carried away. Pacing is critical. The goal of the small group is to provide additional guided practice in problem solving and computation. This is a great time to differentiate based on readiness level.

For more information on maximizing your math instruction time, join me at one of my Guided Math seminars or during a virtual session.

Kelly Harmon and Randi Anderson

About The Authors

Kelly Harmon & Associates began in 2001 with a mission of instructional coaching and providing rich literacy resources for educators and parents. Our work incorporates research-based best practices for teaching and learning.

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