How I Differentiate Guided Math Lessons

Whenever I begin a new unit in math, I give my students a simple pre-assessment that has three tiered math problems. The problems are meant to give me data on my students’ understanding of the concepts before we jump in and start the unit. This way, I know what to spend more time on with each student during our guided math groups.

Related: An Easy Way to Level Students for Math Groups

The pre-assessments are quick to grade and as I am checking them, I am sorting them into different piles based on which questions were answered correctly. Each pile becomes one of my math groups for that unit.

I run math groups every day. I start whole group as I give a mini lesson on the day’s skill, and then we break up into our rotations. This allows me to meet with each math group every day and work on the day’s skill at their level.

Related: What a Typical Day of Math Centers Looks Like

Why I Love Teaching Guided Math Groups

Meeting with each small group every day allows me to see exactly where my students need help. I can easily check in with each one individually and help them work through a misconception or a struggle as we work on the day’s math objective together. With my small groups, I can answer questions more directly than during whole group instruction and truly focus on the individual needs of each child. During this time, we are working on problems from the curriculum or from supplemental resources, but I also have mini-whiteboards out so students can show me their work as they are working through problems.

Three Levels of Differentiation During Guided Math

My students who struggle the most are put into my circle group. I support them by providing direct, explicit instruction. We work together to achieve a basic level of understanding. Sometimes this means reviewing standards from prior grade levels. I meet them where they are and we move forward with baby steps.

We use hands-on manipulatives as much as we can and we draw pictorial representations to help us solve problems. I take time with each individual student and hold their hand as they work through a single problem, explaining and chunking information.

My square group consists of students who are right in the middle. They are encouraged to move beyond the basic understanding. I support them as they push to higher-level problems. This usually means that we work through a few basic problems and then we attack word problems together.

During guided math, they are working through an assigned problem as I check in with each one and provide scaffolding as needed. I don’t typically have to walk them through entire problems, but rather “pop in” during different parts when students struggle. We focus on word problem attack strategies.

My triangle group is made up of those who the concept comes easily to. They get support to solve the most difficult problems and move into higher levels of application. Sometimes this also involves pulling examples from the next grade level’s standard as enrichment.

When I meet with these students, we really focus on math talk. These students are usually stronger in analysis and application and thrive on challenge. I will start our session by reviewing what they completed independently. If there is a problem that many of the students struggled with, we break it down together as we “put our heads together” and talk it out.

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