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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Helpful Advice Needed From YOU

I just received this email from one of the bright young teachers in my district:
I am just trying to get ready for the year that is quickly approaching! What do I do if a group of my 5th graders are at the 2nd grade level in math, according to their scores from last year’s Spring MAP testing?  I remember teaching a class of 5th graders my first year of teaching and feeling very overwhelmed because the skills that were supposed to be mastered were not. Do you think teaching at a too high level will be good for these students at the 2nd grade level in math?  Does this make sense?
I wondered what advice the readers of this blog would give her?  We use the Everyday Math Curriculum that is spiral in concept development.

I’ll post my response too, but I’m interested in your thoughts as there are many newer teachers that are facing this problem. Please share.


  1. First the teacher needs to pre-load information before teaching it with the class. During the small group instruction lesson, the teacher will need to help the students connect from where they are at to what they need to learn. Using games and manipulatives during these lessons is essential to making it engaging and visual. These students also need to have their independent work differentiated for them(station work).Parent volunteers or using an assistant is an additional way to give those kids support when the teacher is not available. I also highly recommend technology like This site allows the student to choose a skill to practice at any grade level. In addition, having the students pair with a slightly stronger student will help the child grow without being too intimidated. I also found that my kids were really motivated to learn given a scenario where they had to learn skills in order to complete the task. Our end of the year project revolved around creating their own ice cream shop. Students designed their stores, researched the costs to build, decorate, and stock the store.

  2. I think that differenciated instruction is perfect for these kids. Many times they are missing out on basic concepts that once mastered they will grow quickly. As a former IST/RTI teacher for a few years, I went into classrooms and helped with exactly this type of problem. Many of the teachers I helped taught math in a 3 area rotation of Whole class concept instruction, independant( review of the daily lesson) and small teacher group( similar to Debbie Diller's new book) During the small group time, I reviewed the daily lesson and scaffolded their learning back to their level to then build upon it in future lessons. Ask if there is anyone who can come in to help during math, ask parents( even past parents or retirees), and give them both instruction at their grade leve and at their current level. It sounds ahrd but work up a routine and the kids will grow!!

  3. Dear cdeforge,
    I find your 3 way rotation idea very interesting. 1)Whole group at grade level 2) independent (perhaps Math Stations that have different levels of activities in the activity boxes and Everyday Math Games) and 3) working with a second teacher or parent to scaffold their learning. This could be based on MAP scores and what Des Cartes tells you the skills they are missing. If you have a special education student in your class, perhaps you could get the special education teacher to come in and teach one or two of the small groups to work on those skills in class instead of a pull out. Thanks for posting. I love to solve problems through group brainstorming. (Isn't that a part of RTI?)

  4. I'd accelerate these students with vocabulary preparation a week or two in advance of the new Math concepts. I'd also give them plenty of fun ways to learn number sense (maybe card games they could practice at home would be one). Last, we know that high expectations yield high results. Pair the students with higher achieving Math students because "I know you just need a little more experience and you'll have it in the bag!" It's amazing what students can do when they believe you believe in them...

    Melly <><

    Second Grade Strategies for Sizzlin' Second Graders!

  5. Dear Nelly,
    I agree that believing in a child's ability to learn is so important. That's why I believe that you can't deny them access to math at their current grade level in addition to trying to fill some of the holes they are missing. Just because a child tests at a lower level, he/she can have strengths in some strands of mathematics. Maybe it's the ability to visualize spacial objects, or see a pattern that others miss. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and advice.

  6. Testing scores, in my humble opinion, are just one small piece of information. If these tests are based on your curriculum specifically, then I would be prepared to give their results more value.

    I would begin to get to know these students unit by unit and topic by topic. Have all your students complete a grade level appropriate pre unit assessment, the same one you might give at the end of a unit, and use that data to help you plan where to go next with all your students.

    If it turns out that specific students have difficulties in a particular area of mathematics, then you need to plan accordingly. Fortunately mathematics is organized by "Big Ideas" and specific math outcomes can be organized under these ideas quite nicely. If you can identify the "Big Ideas" and plan differentiated tasks that provide choice or open questions, all students should be able to participate in the same task but at different entry levels.

    There is a WONDERFUL book by Dr. Marian Small (proudly Canadian) titled, Good Questions: Great Ways to Differentiate Mathematics Instruction.

    I would strongly recommend this book. I also particularly enjoy lessons from the "Twenty Thinking Questions" series. They tend to be very open and allow for individual responses to one question.

    I hope this helps

  7. Dear Jill,
    Based on your recommendations I have already ordered the book, "Good Questions:Great ways to Differntiate Mathematics Instructions." (I ordered it from which was $20 less than by the way.)

  8. Have you heard of Hooda Math Games yet? at, Check out their featured math games at


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