Math—whether it involves addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division—can bewilder even the best of students. As learners begin to suspect they cannot perform well at math, they start to get anxious and fearful—and that’s when their confidence begins to erode. When we put students through an anxiety-provoking math experience, we potentially lose them forever.
The new standards set math fluency as a goal. But fluency occurs only when students are mathematically confident. And that happens only when they understand numbers.
How can students learn math facts, understand numbers, and become better thinkers and mathematicians? Many educators are finding guided math is the answer. Let’s take a closer look at what quality math instruction looks like through the lens of a guided math framework.
Guided Math … a Tool and So Much More
What is guided math? Simply put, it is a structure for teaching and a way to support each child at their level of development. It’s a tool for engaging students in rigorous, standards-based learning while the teacher develops a specific skill or concept. It’s based on the idea that amazing learning can take place in small groups.
As teachers initially look into this instructional strategy, they are often excited about its potential in their classrooms. Guided math can help them maximize every student’s ability to learn math. It can offer them the freedom to support their struggling students. It can help them maintain the depth and rigor required by advanced learners, as well.
Indeed, the benefits of using guided math in the day-to-day classroom are compelling. Here’s an obvious one—students can’t hide in the crowd in a guided group. That means very quickly, a teacher can tell who gets it and who doesn’t. Another positive for teachers is the ability to tailor a group to individual needs and make it as challenging as necessary. Busy teachers are also delighted to know they need only carve out 15 minutes or so. Kids have a short attention span anyway, so the 15-minute time frame keeps them engaged and focused.
Meet Learners Where They Are
Teachers need developmentally appropriate activities to differentiate their instruction and meet the needs of all learners. A guided math group, when implemented correctly, is sure to be a win-win. It’s a great way to meet learners where they are and take them where they need to go. It allows students to work in their unique “zone” so they can learn exactly what they need to know. It incorporates a variety of activities that are engaging because they satisfy different learning styles and interests. As a result, students get in the game, engage deeply in rich conversations, show their thinking, and learn a lot about habits of mind and ways of doing math.
Draw on Your Teacher Strengths
To incorporate guided math into their curriculum, teachers need a tool box full of skills. Fortunately, most teachers already possess many of them. The ability to question is at the top of the list. This gives students the opportunity to talk with their peers, ask their own questions, and explain their math thinking. Scaffolding lessons also is important because then students can be taught at a concrete, pictorial, or abstract level. Providing immediate feedback is a skill teachers will use throughout the day to help students adjust their work on the spot. The ability to facilitate thinking, coach learners, and orchestrate meaningful conversations—guided math puts these and many other teacher strengths to work.
In every classroom there are students who struggle with math, don’t understand it, and are not good at it. No wonder they hate math. Using guided math, teachers can make their classroom the place where students learn, become better mathematicians, and develop a positive attitude towards math that will last throughout their school careers and beyond.
For a deeper look at guided math and how to use it in your classroom, check out SDE’s webinar Developing Fluency Through Guided Math (Gr. 3–5), by educator and math expert Kristin Hilty.