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Differentiating Math for All Level Learners

Updated: Jul 23, 2021

I have often been asked why I have chosen to teach math in small groups just like reading and the answer is simple: they are the same. I tell my students that not all brains learn the same things at the same time. What comes easy for one person may be hard for another. Using guided math groups I can easily differentiate for my different types of learners and those on higher/lower levels of math skills. It is the same as I do for my reading groups, differentiate by level of learning and by learning type.

I have assembled and given each child a binder or folder to hold their math materials. This has come in especially handy this year with Covid and not being able to share manipulatives. Inside the binder is a zipper pencil case, laminated/page protected copies of the targeted learning posters, sharpened pencils and math manipulatives. This quarter I have placed base 10 rods and cubes in the zippered pouches for 2 of my groups an mixed coins for another. My struggling group has counting cards for number order, counting bears for counting/ grouping/ beginning addition and paper dominoes.

These binders are easy to send home for extra practice, color coded for easy grouping and provide hands on experiences for the child. Having their own binder encourages the kiddos to take ownership and responsibility which in turn helps them to take better care of the given items. With everything in one place I can call a group color and the kiddos can easily grab their binder and meet me at my desk. I am not worried about finding materials as I have my own binder with everything for all groups ready to go. I also like to put any work we have completed or will complete for the unit into the binder for safe keeping and for parents to see.

Once the group is gathered I will review several learned concepts quickly and then move on to our main concept for the week. We work together for no more than 10-15 minutes. We will have already done our main counting and minilesson as a whole group before beginning our guided math rotations. While I am working with a small group my other kiddos are rotating through 3 stations:

1. Targeted skills worksheet or Seesaw activity

2. Math center with recording sheet that reinforces learned concepts

3. Math manipulatives with task cards or building materials to support STEM goals. (I do not change my STEM/manipulatives center everyday, generally I change it out once a week trying not to duplicate it within the month.)

By giving my students their own binders I can create a sense of everyone being on the same playing field. I do not often have kiddos getting frustrated because the work is too high or others with behavior issues because they are bored. I can remediate for those that need it, provide mastery practice for those on level and challenge those that need advanced concepts. This also creates a more inclusive classroom community because the children are not focused on what others do or do not know.

During my group time I like to play math games (ie. sum swamp), work with hands on materials (counters, base 10, dominoes, dice etc.) and provide fun activities that support our main concepts. I try to make sure that each group has something equally engaging so that no one feels left out. If I did a game with one group and a worksheet with another group I could see some jealousy and playing favorites questions coming up. I want the kiddos to look forward to their guided math time not dread it.

By using different materials at different times I also do not have to worry about having enough copies of everything for each student. I originally made 6 copies of each item and was able to plug them in or take them out as needed. I have only needed to replace a handful of missing or damaged items over the years. Filling in missing items is easy when they only need to be printed out and laminated instead of replacing curriculum items that often come in large packages. For my kiddos that tend to loose items I only provide black and white copies of items so I am not constantly replacing color ink.

I can also send home extra copies of items that a child needs work on if the group is moving to the next concept. The parents love having hands on materials that they would normally not have at home. I try to encourage them to use items from around the house but most Kinder homes do not have a set of base 10 rods and cubes. I don't send home plastic coins because it is important for kiddos to count real coins and most parents can easily come up with some spare change. Once parents see the dedication you have towards their child's math learning most get on boar with supporting these concepts at home just like in reading.

So, how do I balance math and reading homework in Kindergarten? I don't, reading is required 20 minutes every night by Admin. My math binders go home Tuesdays and Thursdays and are completely optional. I do not take grades on the activities and I do not make the kiddos feel bad if they didn't get to it. I have had great success with a majority of the families using the binders and completing the homework assignments easily and willingly because they want to support their child's learning. Many just don't know how to or what to teach. The binder gives them items to review and items to work on while their child is in any given unit. It is easy for me to switch out items with the groups at my desk and introduce new items as needed. Meeting in small groups for math truly is a win win for everyone! Get started with your guided math groups by clicking on any of the pictures in this post.

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