Saturday, September 19, 2015

Guided Math Groups

I've talked about my math groups briefly before here and here are some games we would play during them.  Today I'm going to share with you why I decided to switch my math program to guided math groups and what I did to start.

To begin with last year I taught in a grade 5/6 split classroom.  I knew I had to teach both the grade 5 math curriculum and the grade 6 curriculum.  I was advised by another teacher (and by a guide book that went along with my textbooks) to teach the whole class the grade 5 stuff and then get the grade 5's started on their work before moving onto my grade 6's.  I did this until spring break and it was hard.  

The hardest part about teaching this way was that I was never available to sit with students when they were struggling (and if you don't think any of your students will struggle with a math concept... you're dreaming!).  We had an "Ask 3 before me" poster where they would go to others for help but sometimes the others didn't want to help or what if the names under math also didn't understand what was happening?  

I was also boring some of my grade 6 students that didn't need the grade 5 review every day.  They wouldn't all pay attention.

I was also having to teach over the commotion of the grade 5's getting started on their work and asking others how to do things which was a distraction for the grade 6 students.  

One day I had had enough... and so I googled "how to teach math in a split classroom" and low and behold guided math groups was one of the first things to come up.

At this point it was about 2 weeks prior to spring break and it was advised to me to teach whole class activities up until then and then start the math groups when they came back... so that's what I did.  I spent 2 weeks gathering and printing games and putting them into files that I could easily pull out.  It was around this time that our laminator at the school also went so I put all the games that were on paper into page protectors so that the students could use whiteboard markers on them and erase them (I actually found that page protectors erase whiteboard markers way easier than things that are laminated so I never ended up laminating the games once it was fixed.

I spent parts of my spring break cutting out cards and gluing things together for more games and by the time the break was over I was ready to start them... so here is what I did.

I set up their groups so that the students who struggled the most would be in the smallest group.  I had 24 students in my class and in my lowest group I only put 4 students.  I also made sure to mix the grades as much as possible... I didn't want them to think that this was a low group because it only had grade 5's in it.  For some of the groups I had to make sure certain people were separated as well.  I was lucky because one of my groups had an educational assistant in it... so if I suspected anyone would be trouble I put them in that group because that group was guaranteed to have an adult with them at every center.

I made this schedule along with a class list that would tell each student what number group they were in.  We ALWAYS kept the order the same.  Group 1 would start with me and end at a game and group 4 would start with their independent work and end with seeing me.

My group set up
I found a 15 minute timer on Youtube and put it on the projector.  I turned the volume down because it was loud at the end... it was more of a visual reminder to show students (and me) how much time they had left.  I usually asked one student that was working with me to head over to my computer when it went off to restart it.  I even loaded it on a program that cut out all the adds for Youtube videos (and showing other suggestions) because sometimes (often) those ads and suggestions are not appropriate.... that program stopped working a couple months alter but for the time that I was using it it worked great!

Also, in regards to the groups:  My 2 lower groups I taught things from the grade 5 curriculum regardless of the grade they were in and my 2 upper groups I taught outcomes from the grade 6 curriculum.  Group 1 was usually 1 or 2 lessons behind group 2 because we would take extra time going over things or I might find based on the results of one assignment that I needed to re teach it to them.  Group 3 was usually about 1 lesson behind group 4 (these 2 groups were very close in abilities). By the end I think I was actually teaching group 3 and 4 the same things but kept the groups separate to keep them smaller and more manageable.  SO, I was still only teaching 2 new lessons a day for math which is what I was doing before spring break anyways.

Here is a run down of the different centers:

Working with me:  We would go over the lesson for the day.  I would teach them, we would go over problems together, they would ask questions, and often times we would start the assignment together as well.  At this point some students would chose to go to their desks and work individually and some would stay at the front table and work near me.

Work Individually:  This one is pretty self explanatory.  The students would have to go to their seats (when coming up with a seating plan I actually looked at their math groups to make sure I would place one whole math group next to each other) and do the assignment on their own.  They were not allowed to ask me questions anymore and if they had any they had to star the question and either ask me when I was done with the teaching part of the next group or wait until the next day when we went over the assignment together.  If they finished early their options were to do a Suduko (I had them laminated in a bucket arranged from easy to hard that they could use a whiteboard marker for) or read.  The group that started here before seeing me was my highest group and I would often give them an assignment that would explain the new concept at the top with examples.  If they didn't understand it from that they could read or do a Suduko right away and wait for them to see me at the end.  Anyone that didn't finish their assignment during this time took it home for homework.  They were not allowed to work on it at different centers.

Dice Game: Here is a blog post that I talked about some of my dice games.  I usually put one here that worked on their multiplication and division skills.  The games often worked on a certain fact group (like multiplying by 4's) and I would let them choose one that would be challenging for them.

Other Game:  This one was usually a board game that used money (I found one in the game cupboard but you could also use life or monopoly.  I also had fraction matching games and I Have Who Has games that they would use here to practice a skill that they were learning with me.

The benefits of using guided math groups honestly far outweigh any negatives you might come up with (mine were that some kids in grade 6 might not be learning grade level outcomes or that some kids in grade 5 that would be doing grade 6 work this year might be bored next year AND I thought it would take forever to set up).  I found my lower students especially more willing to offer answers and participate whereas before they might not have.  I got to connect with students way more often and learn about what was challenging to them or what they were understanding... and not only getting that information based off of worksheets that they were doing.

I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to learn this method of teaching.  If I would have been teaching in a straight grade 5 classroom I'm not sure I would have even thought of dividing my class up this way.  But when you think of it, every class has a range of abilities... not everyone in that straight grade 5 class would likely be able to do the grade 5 outcomes that I would have been pushing for.  I will definitely be considering this method for math in any future classroom I may have!

So, how about you, have you ever taught in a multiage classroom?
Have you ever tried guided math groups?

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