Strategies to Use While Teaching
Try this list of math interventions while giving a lesson, as they can be tools to help individual students—or even full classes!—who seem to be stuck on a problem.
Strategy 6: Employ Metacognitive Strategies
Research has shown time and time again that if you can get students to think critically about their own mathematical thinking, there is an opportunity to grow. On the surface, the problem may seem to be an understanding of math concepts, but the deeper problem may in fact be the students’ mindsets.
Encourage students to tell their own math stories. What was math like in their household and in previous classes? Intentionally draw your students’ attentions not just to what the math concepts are, but how they feel about them. Have students pause to reflect on how they feel and what thoughts are crossing their minds. Are they thinking thoughts like “I’ll never get this” or “There’s nothing I can do about it?” Present ways to combat this thinking, such as taking a break, asking for help, or brainstorming a new strategy to try.
Strategy 7: Verbalize Thought Processes
Research shows that the most successful math interventions are explicit and systematic. One way to do that is to verbalize thought processes. In other words, as students think about how to solve a problem, probe them to say what they are thinking aloud. It is important here to listen patiently and without judgment even if their mathematical language is inexact or their reasoning is imperfect. When you hear the full process, it can help you identify specifically how to intervene. Perhaps they understand a larger idea but get stuck on the arithmetic. Or perhaps they understand what a problem is asking but shut down as soon as they encounter a fraction.
It can work the other way, too. As you solve a problem, verbalize your thought process. Let students see the steps you take to work through a problem and model precise mathematical language and reasoning.
Strategy 8: Fast Draw
Fast Draw is a learning strategy devised by Cecil D. Mercer and Susan P. Miller around 30 years ago to help students with learning disabilities in solving math word problems. The letters of Fast Draw are a mnemonic for the steps:
- Find what you are solving for: Look for the question mark and underline what you are trying to solve for.
- Ask yourself what information is given: Read the whole problem and look for what information is already provided.
- Set up the equation: Write the equation with numbers and symbols in the correct order.
- Tie down the equation: Say out loud what the operation is and what it means. If you can, solve the problem. It may help to draw pictures.
- Discover the sign. Find the sign and say it out loud.
- Read the problem. Say the problem out loud.
- Answer the problem, or draw.
- Write the answer to the problem.
Here’s a resource from James Madison University that provides details on each step, along with examples. Students struggling in mathematics often become passive when faced with word problems, and Fast Draw offers a concrete strategy that can help them become active and work through word problems on their own. The strategy not only helps bolster math achievement, but math attitudes, too, especially for students with learning disabilities.
Strategy 9: Use Multiple Representations
Multiple representations are important well beyond math intervention. They help students perceive math concepts in different ways and form important generalizations. However, they can serve a more targeted purpose for a student who needs targeted help. Showing math representations in different ways gives students a variety of mental models to consider, making comprehension more likely. In other words, it helps students “see” the math, even when one representation confuses them. The card sort activity from Strategy 3: Peer Tutoring is one way you can prepare specific multiple representations for students to compare.
Even concepts that seem simple to you can be complex to your students. Since everybody without visual impairments is a visual learner, lean into multiple visual representations to demystify ideas. But be intentional in which representations you show. If the representations are hard to interpret or come across as disconnected, you risk confusing students more!
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