Thursday, August 07, 2014

Helping Struggling Math Students Succeed: Ideas

How do you effectively teach struggling math students?

As I reviewed new scores, I really began to think about this question in earnest.

I will start with the following strategies, and if you have more for me, please share.

Know the Learner Well
Often struggling math students are complex learners for a large number of reasons so by getting to know these learners well through conversation, discussion, and strategizing, I will be better able to work with them towards success. These are questions one can consider as you get to know your challenged math learner with depth:
  • Is there a language barrier?
  • Are there identified special needs?
  • Does executive functioning issues play a role?
  • Are there problems at home?
  • Is sickness an issue?
  • Does the child have visual challenges?
  • Is there a need for an attitude shift? Does the child believe he/she can learn?
  • Are there significant developmental deficits in his/her math understanding and knowledge--deficits that need to be strengthened? 
By identifying the struggling math students via standardized tests, surveys, and other measures at the start of the year, you can be ready for them by providing the following accommodations:
  • preferential seating
  • a schedule that provides them with extra small group or one-to-one support beginning at the start of the year
  • early meetings with family members
  • tailored home study routines with frequent check-ins
  • video or Skype lessons from home to help with home study
  • extra incentives
  • accessible tools
Explicit Teaching and Practice 
These students need lots of explicit give-and-take teaching at a just right pace. Make the time to pre-teach or reteach concepts with these students each day if possible. Willingham's book, Why Don't Students Like School, points to the fact that some students don't learn as quickly or as well as others and for those students to reach success they need to work harder and more.  Give these students the explicit teaching they need and the extra opportunity to practice.

Target the Most Important Teaching Points
Use online enrichment, project work, and problem solving to keep your talented, independent math learners engaged, while you make the time to teach the most important math points (the standards) to your struggling students. Give them the time and extra attention to solidify these these skills, concepts, and knowledge.

Multimodal Teaching and Model Making 
Teach in many ways with multiple modes. Find the best ways to build understanding with each child. Move from concrete to representational to abstract in this regard. Use models regularly to strengthen understanding. 

A Strong Foundation
Make the time to strengthen the child's math foundation. If he/she does not have early numeracy skills and strength, the student will not be able to grasp the higher level concepts. 

Next year I have the luxury of concentrating on mainly two subjects, math and science. The system has identified math a main growth objective for the grade level I'll teach, 5th grade. Hence one of my most important goals will be to keep these challenged math students center stage, and to work with the learning community to raise their level of confidence, understanding, and skill significantly.

If you've got some great ideas for this, please let me know. We've had some success in the past, but I believe that greater time and attention towards the issue will bring us even more success.  Onward.