Friday, February 13, 2009

Math strategies from Intervention Central

School-Wide Strategies for Managing...

Mathematics instruction is a lengthy, incremental process that spans all grade levels. As children begin formal schooling in kindergarten, they develop 'number sense', an intuitive understanding of foundation number concepts and relationships among numbers. A central part of number sense is the student's ability to internalize the number line as a precursor to performing mental arithmetic. As students progress through elementary school, they must next master common math operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) and develop fluency in basic arithmetic combinations ('math facts'). In later grades, students transition to applied, or 'word', problems that relate math operations and concepts to real-world situations. Successful completion of applied problems requires that the student understand specialized math vocabulary, identify the relevant math operations needed to solve the problem while ignoring any unnecessary information also appearing in that written problem, translate the word problem from text format into a numeric equation containing digits and math symbols, and then successfully solve. It is no surprise, then, that there are a number of potential blockers to student success with applied problems, including limited reading decoding and comprehension skills, failure to acquire fluency with arithmetic combinations (math facts), and lack of proficiency with math operations. Deciding what specific math interventions might be appropriate for any student must therefore be a highly individualized process, one that is highly dependent on the student's developmental level and current math skills, the requirements of the school district's math curriculum, and the degree to which the student possesses or lacks the necessary auxiliary skills (e.g., math vocabulary, reading comprehension) for success in math. Here are some wide-ranging classroom (Tier I RTI) ideas for math interventions that extend from the primary through secondary grades.

Applied Problems: Encourage Students to Draw to Clarify Understanding (Van Essen & Hamaker, 1990; Van Garderen,2006). Making a drawing of an applied, or 'word', problem is one easy heuristic tool that students can use to help them to find the solution. An additional benefit of the drawing strategy is that it can reveal to the teacher any student misunderstandings about how to set up or solve the word problem. To introduce students to the drawing strategy, the teacher hands out a worksheet containing at least six word problems. The teacher explains to students that making a picture of a word problem sometimes makes that problem clearer and easier to solve. The teacher and students then independently create drawings of each of the problems on the worksheet. Next, the students show their drawings for each problem, explaining each drawing and how it relates to the word problem. The teacher also participates, explaining his or her drawings to the class or group. Then students are directed independently to make drawings as an intermediate problem-solving step when they are faced with challenging word problems. NOTE: This strategy appears to be more effective when used in later, rather than earlier, elementary grades.

Math Computation: Two Ideas to Jump-Start Active Academic Responding (Skinner, Pappas & Davis, 2005). Research shows that when teachers use specific techniques to motivate their classes to engage in higher rates of active and accurate academic responding, student learning rates are likely to go up. Here are two ideas to accomplish increased academic responding on math tasks. First, break longer assignments into shorter assignments with performance feedback given after each shorter 'chunk' (e.g., break a 20-minute math computation worksheet task into 3 seven minute assignments). Breaking longer assignments into briefer segments also allows the teacher to praise struggling students more frequently for work completion and effort, providing an additional 'natural' reinforcer. Second, allow students to respond to easier practice items orally rather than in written form to speed up the rate of correct responses.

Math Homework: Motivate Students Through Reinforcers, Interesting Assignments, Homework Planners, and Self-Monitoring (Bryan & Sullivan-Burstein, 1998). Improve students' rate of homework completion and quality by using reinforcers, motivating 'real-life' assignments, a homework planner, and student self-monitoring. (1) Reinforcers: Allow students to earn a small reward (e.g., additional free time) when they turn in all homework assignments for the week. (2) 'Real-life' Assignments: Make homework meaningful by linking concepts being taught to students' lives. In a math lesson on estimating area, for example, give students the homework task of calculating the area of their bedroom and estimating the amount of paint needed to cover the walls. (3) Homework Planner: Teach students to use a homework planner to write down assignments, organize any materials (e.g., worksheets) needed for homework, transport completed homework safely back to school, and provide space for parents and teachers to communicate about homework via written school-home notes. (4) Student Self-Monitoring: Direct students to chart their homework completion each week. Have students plot the number of assignments turned in on-time in green, assignments not turned in at all in red, and assignments turned in late in yellow.

Math Instruction: Consolidate Student Learning During Lecture Through the Peer-Guided Pause (Hawkins, & Brady, 1994). During large-group math lectures, teachers can help students to retain more instructional content by incorporating brief Peer Guided Pause sessions into lectures. Students are trained to work in pairs. At one or more appropriate review points in a lecture period, the instructor directs students to pair up to work together for 4 minutes. During each Peer Guided Pause, students are given a worksheet that contains one or more correctly completed word or number problems illustrating the math concept(s) covered in the lecture. The sheet also contains several additional, similar problems that pairs of students work cooperatively to complete, along with an answer key. Student pairs are reminded to (a) monitor their understanding of the lesson concepts; (b) review the correctly math model problem; (c) work cooperatively on the additional problems, and (d) check their answers. The teacher can direct student pairs to write their names on the practice sheets and collect them as a convenient way to monitor student understanding.

Math Instruction: Maintain a Supportive Atmosphere for Classroom "Math Talk" (Cooke & Adams, 1998). Teachers can promote greater student 'risk-taking' in mathematics learning when they cultivate a positive classroom atmosphere for math discussions while preventing peers from putting each other down. The teacher models behavioral expectations for open, interactive discussions, praises students for their class participation and creative attempts at problem-solving, and regularly points out that incorrect answers and misunderstandings should be celebrated—as they often lead to breakthroughs in learning. The teacher uses open-ended comments (e.g., "What led you to that answer?") as tools to draw out students and encourage them to explore and apply math concepts in group discussion. Students are also encouraged in a supportive manner to evaluate each other's reasoning. However, the teacher intervenes immediately to prevent negative student comments or 'put-downs' about peers. As with any problem classroom behavior, a first offense requires that the student meet privately with the instructor to discuss teacher expectations for positive classroom behavior. If the student continues to put down peers, the teacher imposes appropriate disciplinary consequences.

Math Instruction: Unlock the Thoughts of Reluctant Students Through Class Journaling (Baxter, Woodward & Olson, 2005). Students can effectively clarify their knowledge of math concepts and problem-solving strategies through regular use of class 'math journals'. Journaling is a valuable channel of communication about math issues for students who are unsure of their skills and reluctant to contribute orally in class. At the start of the year, the teacher introduces the journaling assignment, telling students that they will be asked to write and submit responses at least weekly to teacherposed questions. At first, the teacher presents 'safe' questions that tap into the students' opinions and attitudes about mathematics (e.g., 'How important do you think it is nowadays for cashiers in fast-food restaurants to be able to calculate in their head the amount of change to give a customer?"). As students become comfortable with the journaling activity, the teacher starts to pose questions about the students' own mathematical thinking relating to specific assignments. Students are encouraged to use numerals, mathematical symbols, and diagrams in their journal entries to enhance their explanations. The teacher provides brief written comments on individual student entries, as well as periodic oral feedback and encouragement to the entire class on the general quality and content of class journal responses. Regular math journaling can prod students to move beyond simple 'rote' mastery of the steps for completing various math problems toward a deeper grasp of the math concepts that underlie and explain a particular problem solving approach. Teachers will find that journal entries are a concrete method for monitoring student understanding of more abstract math concepts. To promote the quality of journal entries, the teacher might also assign them an effort grade that will be calculated into quarterly math report card grades.

Math Review: Teach Effective Test-Preparation Strategies (Hong, Sas, & Sas, 2006). A comparison of the methods that high and low-achieving math students typically use to prepare for tests suggests that struggling math students need to be taught (1) specific test-review strategies and (2) time-management and self-advocacy skills. Among review-related strategies, deficient test-takers benefit from explicit instruction in how to take adequate in-class notes; to adopt a systematic method to review material for tests (e.g., looking over their notes each night, rereading relevant portions of the math text, reviewing handouts from the teacher, etc.), and to give themselves additional practice in solving problems (e.g., by attempting all homework items, tackling additional problems from the text book, and solving problems included in teacher handouts). Deficient test-takers also require pointers in how to allocate and manage their study time wisely, to structure their study environment to increase concentration and reduce distractions, as well as to develop 'self advocacy' skills such as seeking additional help from teachers when needed. Teachers can efficiently teach effective test-preparation methods as a several-session whole-group instructional module.

Math Vocabulary: Preteach, Model, and Use Standard Math Terms (Chard, D., n.d.). Three strategies can help students to learn essential math vocabulary: preteaching key vocabulary items, modeling those vocabulary words, and using only universally accepted math terms in instruction. (1) Preteach key math vocabulary. Math vocabulary provides students with the language tools to grasp abstract mathematical concepts and to explain their own reasoning. Therefore, do not wait to teach that vocabulary only at 'point of use'. Instead, preview relevant math vocabulary as a regular a part of the 'background' information that students receive in preparation to learn new math concepts or operations. (2) Model the relevant vocabulary when new concepts are taught. Strengthen students' grasp of new vocabulary by reviewing a number of math problems with the class, each time consistently and explicitly modeling the use of appropriate vocabulary to describe the concepts being taught. Then have students engage in cooperative learning or individual practice activities in which they too must successfully use the new vocabulary—while the teacher provides targeted support to students as needed. (3) Ensure that students learn standard, widely accepted labels for common math terms and operations and that they use them consistently to describe their math problem-solving efforts.

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From Jim Wright: Intervention Ideas for MATHEMATICS 9/26/08 11:53 AM
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