Guided Math Groups with Middle School Students

I am a middle school 8th grade math teacher, and I love the students I teach. When I hear the words “Guided Math,” I instantly think elementary levels. This past year, I implemented guided math groups/small group instruction into my 8th grade middle school math classroom and their growth was amazing (check out the resources I use here). My students were asking when they would get to go to small group.  They saw the benefits and so did I!

Getting Started

I can’t stress enough that you have to create a classroom environment that is respectful of the varying levels of students in your classroom.  I set high expectations for my students from day one.  In middle school, many students walk into my class and tell me “I hate math!  It’s always been my worst subject.”  Open house is generally full of many parents telling me that they can’t help their kids with math, because they were not good at math themselves. My students feel they are destined to fail before I have ever had a chance to see what they already know.

I try to counter this mindset from their first time meeting me in my classroom.  I tell my students, “It doesn’t matter if you don’t like math, or that your parents struggled and don’t feel they can help you, because I LOVE MATH!!! I am good at it, and together we are going to be successful and WE are going to grow this year!”  I want to instill a Growth Mindset into my students.  I want them to know that I believe in them, and I must portray a confidence that they can trust.88624900

Additionally, students in my classroom never tease other students as dumb for having to go to small group, because they all go to small group at some point.  Students feel safe to participate freely and small group time is not a punishment.  My students want to have that one on one instruction with me, because they can see themselves growing.

Large Group Activities

When you are pulling a small group of no more than 6 students, what do you do with the other 24 students.  It sounds daunting, but I set really high expectations for my classes and they know what to expect from day one of instruction.  I am also consistent with the types of activities that I give my large group so that they can be more independent when I am working with my small group of students.200px-globaloria_students_working

On a typical day in my class, I will pull 6 students at a time to go over materials that I have already taught and feel students need additional support.  My district has one to one technology, so I try to utilize their devices in a way that keeps my large group of students engaged and on task.  If you don’t have the technology available, just plan an activity that students can do independently or with a shoulder partner so that the noise is at a minimum and they will not need your assistance.  If you have technology available, try implementing one of these sights into your lesson plan for the large group.  It could be as simple as putting your worksheet online and letting the kids use their device to access it.dsc02356


Small Group Instruction

I don’t spend hours planning my small group instruction.  I plan for the large group activity.  I generally pull 3-6 really good questions to use in my small group.  I do 1-2 guided problems with the students, and then let them try 1-2 problems on their own to show me that they understand the concept. Once they can show me they’ve got it, I send them back to complete the large group activity for the day and pull 6 more students.

I do not typically make copies for this instruction.  I plan my questions (like these volume task cards), give the students expo markers and they do their work on the desks. picture14 If I need to copy something, I make 3-6 copies and use sheet protectors so the students can use their expo marker, erase and it’s ready for the next student.  I do not have a horseshoe table in my room, so I make my own using 6 desks, and I put a chair for myself in the middle.

Who is in the Small Group

I use Exit Tickets from the day before to determine who still needs additional assistance, who is on the right track, and who are my experts.  I seat my experts with my novice students in the large group, and pull all my beginners first.  If I have time remaining, I start pulling my novice students, and then my experts.  I plan one challenging problem for my expert group to help them push deeper into the content.  I try to get to every student, but my beginners are my priority for the day.

Small group instruction is my passion!  I love seeing the excitement my students share when they experience success.  More to come on the successes and failures with this upcoming school year, how to utilize a co-teacher effectively, and station approaches with small group instruction.  See my earlier post on how and when I document during small group instruction. Please comment and share below.


Document, Document, Document…

We hear it every year, but what, how, and when we should document is sometimes unclear. I recently…

We hear it every year, but what, how, and when we should  document is sometimes unclear.  I recently had the privilege to lead a professional development class in my district on Guided Math Groups in the Middle School Classroom, more to come on that session later.  The big question I received in every session was, “How do you document what you do for every student?”  I stumbled with this question because I have tried to document in notebooks, file folders with sticky notes, pieces of paper that I was going to file for every student, and they were all epic fails.  I have over a hundred students, so documenting the success of every student in my small group is impossible. I started thinking, do I really need to document every student?  My final answer was that I already document for every student.  Here’s how.

Documenting for Every Student

The question, “How do you document what you do for every student?” is simple.  We all create lesson plans, and that shows my plan for every student in my class.  That is what I am doing to measure their success daily.  Lesson PlanningProof of them mastering the lessons that I have taught are reflected in my gradebook.  Did the individual student master the concepts that I taught?  Look at your gradebook.

That lead me to start thinking of when should I document, what should I document, and how can I do this quickly and effectively?

When and What Should I Document

Of course we have to document for  IEP and 504 purposes, but I would also want to document certain students who continually seem to struggle with areas in the content that I teach.  For example, if I have a student that counts on their fingers to calculate in middle school and doesn’t seem to be able to complete tasks during the small group, that is worth documenting.  It is hindering his ability to be successful.  Sleeping StudentAnother example, I have a student that sleeps during my class and is failing because they are unable to stay awake and focus, that is worth documenting.  If a student has attended tutorials for three weeks and they are still unable to be successful, document.  Students that are struggling with reading the problems and understanding what is needed, or that seem to have a language barrier you should document.  This documentation is needed to support the student and notify parents/administration of your concerns for the student’s success.  These scenarios and others can not be reflected in the lesson plan for each individual student.  You need the information and it will be supported by the student’s results in your gradebook.

How Can I Document Quickly and Effectively

I think this is the real question teachers are wanting answered when they ask this in trainings.  We are told to document, document, document, but there is not a standard form that we all fill out as teachers that just seems to be appropriate for every situation and that is actually beneficial for every campus.  On my campus, we have an online program to document behavioral concerns, contact to parents when a student is failing, and any other documentation that links to all of a student’s teachers.  It sounds fantastic and is a great concept, but with only certain fields that you can edit, and not every imaginable concern listed in a drop down box, it is not the most beneficial tool for me to use.  I update it as best  I can, but in the classroom it doesn’t offer me very many benefits.

Like you, I need to know specifics for what I am doing and how to help the student in my class.  This year I plan to keep a OneNote notebook for my classes that I can easily add to during a small group lesson with my students.  I don’t need to have every student that I teach in my notebook, just those who I have IEP’s, 504’s, and notable concerns about.  This could change throughout the year and that’s okay.  stock-footage-portrait-of-caucasian-young-female-teacher-networking-on-tablet-computer-in-college-libraryI update that student if I need to, but if they have been successful and I don’t have any concerns, no documentation is necessary.  I have a tablet or my phone handy, and I update it during the small group.  No need to transfer notes later or try to file a million little post it notes in folders.

As teachers, we sometimes stress out and put to much extra work on ourselves.  Sometimes we are not clear on what is being asked of us, and instead of seeking clarification we stress and try to do it all.  It’s in our nature, but after reflecting on this topic, I can see a little stress falling off my shoulders this year.  Goodbye stress of documentation, I will not miss you!

Hope you find this helpful.  Please comment and share below.



First Day Back to School

Each year I face the challenge of wanting to engage with students from day one. Unfortunately…

Summer is rapidly coming to an end and I have had to start preparing myself for meeting the new faces that will enter my classroom this year.  It’s a new year with a new set of adventures, challenges, and learning.

Each year I face the challenge of wanting to engage with my students from day one.  Unfortunately, as a middle school 8th grade math teacher, I  do not have many students that walk in loving math, loving school, or even the desire to try and like their teacher on day one.  I have to build report with them and gain their trust.  For me day one needs to be a mixture of rules and procedures, but also a time to show them that math class is going to be a fun safe place to grow and learn together.


Growth Mindset for Students

Every year one of my goals for the first day of school is to help my students to put aside their insecurities about math and take a fresh approach on learning.  I have been searching Pinterest, Facebook, and Teachers Pay Teachers for the right resource to use with my students.  This Growth Mindset bundle, by TeamTom Education, can be used in a variety of ways in many different settings.  In my math class, I plan to use the video portion of the bundle to help my students understand that no matter what their mathematical background may have been in the past, looking forward we are going to “Grow our Math” skills together.  I’m very excited about this resource and look forward to using it very soon.

 Ice Breakers for Day 1

I want my students to participate openly in my class from the first day.  I try to create an environment that is respectful and safe.  Here are a few resources that I use each year to break the ice with my middle school students.

Use Your Noodle

Divide the room into two groups.  Pick one student from each team to be the team captain.  The team captains are given a marble.  No one is allowed to touch the marble except the team captain.  Give all of the other students a piece of a pool noodle.  Place a plastic cup for each team somewhere in the room.  NO ONE CAN TALK!  The marble must go through each person on the teams noodle and into their team’s cup.  If the marble falls out, the team captain must get it and start over.  The first team to get their marble in the cup wins.

There are many ways the students can do this.  I have seen them try to stand close together and make a diagonal line down to the cup and roll it in, or stack their noodles one on top of the other over the cup and drop it in.  In college, we had a team where the captain put the marble through each persons noodle and then went and put it in the cup.  Any approach they use is right.  I use this to model that there are many ways in math to approach a problem, as well as showing them what cooperative learning looks like in my class.  We work better together!

Team Building

I found this Student-Led Classroom Team Building activity on Pinterest last year and my students loved it.  2e5dc-cup2bstack2b1I was amazed how they all worked together to complete the task, and how quickly some of the groups figured it out.

I hope you find some of these resources useful.  Please comment and share below.