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From "Harm" to Hope: 3 Ways to Get Started with Math Intervention

Author: Lou Edward Matthews, @loumatthewslive Contributors: Sherita Flake, Catrish Griffin, Shereen Holmes, Marla Hunter, Eulanda Seals

As we were sitting in our weekly PLC sessions, my Urban Teachers (now City Teaching Alliance) colleagues and I began discussing the intrepidation that teachers often feel in 'transferring' their skills into action - starting the actual intervention. The instructors teach a course we call Elementary Math Practicum for the purpose of helping teachers provide effective small group instruction

to children who struggle in mathematics. The teachers we support often experience a variety of feelings as they finally get their "groups" and start to work, ranging from "will I harm them?" to "I don't feel confident". As we talked about the importance of helping participants to start intervention, we brainstormed four concrete preparation steps and give some tips for teacher instructor sessions ideas.

Frame the Math

Sometimes teachers get stuck with the bigness of math content, not knowing where to start, waiting on PRE-assessment. Framing the math means that teachers make immediate and concrete decisions to select intervention curricula focus, syllabi focus or standard. The push: "Just select it!" Don't get overly concerned with knowing everything about where they are, or logistics of assessment. Modern tech and AI have adopted approaches of giving children all access and then "backing" up or "learning" where children are as they do (machine learning). Frame the math and start. .

For Teachers: Practice making content decisions from a variety of sources (e.g. eureka, common core grade 3, Do the Math).

Understand the Math (You, do the math!)

Here, teachers explore the 'overviews' and 'big ideas'; they practice the content they will teach BEFORE they have opportunity to teach participants. Intervention teaching means not only looking at on-grade content but looking at the scaffolding 'foundational' content standards as well. Some programs and curricula provide additional resources and materials to do this. Also key here is for teachers to go over key terminology (sometimes a section with materials) and key tools and resources (Eureka is tool dense). Terms like "number bonds" and "regrouping" may be used as other terms in various locations and sources. Try this session idea with teachers: Have teachers look at an example from Eureka or another curriculum or intervention syllabus and identify the big ideas. Have them also practice the content in teams and extract the big ideas from a problem. Resources like Van de Walle's, Teaching Student Centered Mathematics are some favorites for outlining Big Ideas. There is a good slide deck of big ideas here.

Some resources also give you a good idea of how to teach as well (simple but now always obvious). In general, the NCTM's effective mathematics teaching practices are good examples of teacher moves for good teaching. From an intervention perspective you will need these and more specific principles for designing math intervention if students struggle (Explicit, Systematic Instruction, Effective Questioning, Concrete, Representational/Visual/Pictorial, Abstract/Symbolic Models. Teaching Mathematical Vocabulary and Symbols. Fluency Building. Error Analysis.) Combine the two focuses in work with new teachers. Other list of intervention practices can be found here.

Try this: Take one of the effective mathematics teaching practices and modify it using one of the above intervention principles. Share and discuss.

Normalize (Humanize, really) the Math

How do you want children to remember their math experiences? With joy? Curiosity? Normalize it. One of the things on our mind as we discussed how to help teachers start was ways in which children, and us, have experienced mathematics prior to intervention and how tier 1 and tier 2 instructional practice might be different. We talked about how math experiences can be humanized - we can create norms for each intervention session that work to inspire and empower students. Here are some:

Norm Examples

- there are no such things as mistakes

-math can be messy sometimes - taking risks is what we do - we can relate math to things we like

Try this: Brainstorm a list of 5 intervention norms that can encourage active participation, engagement, inspiration and belonging for students. What matters to you? Share and compare these norms with those of your colleagues.

Relate the Math! (Lean in to Students)

No intervention program can accomplish our ideas for humanized, anti-racist experiences for doing math unless we consciously focus on relating. In our circle of teaching here at UT we see students in their full identities and communities as creators and doers of math. So, we ask ourselves, how are they seen in the math we wish to experience. One of the ways our teachers have been doing this is using a rubric for culturally relevant math tasks, which help teachers create and adapt tasks which focus math inquiry on culture and community and issues of justice. One site,, focuses on describing culturally relevant mathematics practices (Center Complex Identities, Expand Deep Understandings, Engage Human Experience, Fight for Justice, and Leverage Voice) that children might experience as they thrive and do math. I recommend online curriculum resources like Illustrated Mathematics and Citizen Math as great starter points for taking standards and apply them to relevant contexts.

Try this: Choose one culturally relevant mathematics practice to emphasize in a selection intervention lesson. For example, have students examine the ways in which fractions help people across communities to share (engage human experience) or fight for justice.

What did you think? What step resonates the most with your practice.... What might you add, emphasize?


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