Three Ways to Improve Math Intervention
Angelica Graves is a K-3 Math Interventionist at the Alliance For Progress Charter School in Philadelphia where she works with small groups of students in a shared resource room. When her principal noticed that her first-grade students were excelling on their STAR tests, Angelica was encouraged to shift into this role.
She works with six groups of eight students per group for 30 minutes each day. As a math interventionist, Angelica is focused on getting her students back on track. She appreciates that her school is great about pushing kids to achieve, but recognizes that some students need to take time to master basic concepts.
“I have second-grade students who can’t do addition in their head, which makes learning third-grade concepts much harder,” says Angelica. “It becomes a struggle for them when they don’t have that solid foundation. That’s why we’re using TouchMath.”
For Angelica, the best approach to helping her students get back on track with math is to work closely with each student depending on their individual needs. Angelica uses the TouchMath Standards-Based Units to help her students master basic mathematical concepts so they can progress on to higher-level thinking.
As an interventionist, Angelica likes to build her own curriculum using content that aligns with Pennsylvania standards. But it can be a challenge to meet the needs of her students who are all on different levels. As she puts together her curriculum, Angelica looks for content that aligns with three areas of best practice for math intervention.
Much of math is conceptual, requiring students to master the concrete and representational aspects before they can advance to abstract thinking. For Angelica, content that includes hands-on learning is critical. “The TouchMath worksheets and activities are good for my students, but it’s the hands-on approach that makes them excel in math,” said Angelica.
Hands-on activities make math concrete for students but also go one step further by allowing students to make creative physical connections with numbers and values. In a 2019 article for Education Week, assistant professor of education Kathy Liu Sun asserts, “It is important to attend to mathematical learning goals while fostering creativity early in a child’s education. We need to create more opportunities for young children to explore mathematical ideas in interactive and playful ways.”
The word literacy is often thought of only in relation to reading. But literacy is critical to a student being able to make meaningful progress in any subject, including math. Angelica has observed that many of her students don’t understand the language that’s used in math. “You can’t go into math education assuming every student knows the vocabulary,” noted Angelica. “I realized early on that when I was saying “subtraction sign”, some of my students didn’t know what I meant.”
Math literacy requires a deep understanding of the vocabulary behind math before progressing into using that language in practice. In her role as an interventionist, Angelica takes care to ensure her students are math literate, before introducing new concepts. This blog post, from Math Geek Mama, has some great ideas for using literacy strategies to teach math.
Frequent Formative Assessments
“Sometimes it’s okay to get to the end of a week and see that some students still don’t get certain concepts,” reflected Angelica. “But if I’ve spent two or three weeks on a topic, it’s difficult to have to go all the way back to the beginning.” Formative assessments enable educators to “discover what their students know while they are still in the process of learning”. These can take many forms, from exit tickets students complete by themselves at the end of each lesson, to more formal, short quizzes at the end of a unit.
Formative assessments help educators pause and take stock. For Angelica, whose students are on different levels, formative assessments are a critical part of her approach to math intervention. They allow her to more effectively plan lesson plans and activities while personalizing learning for each student.