Guided Math: Using Guided Math with Small Groups

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I was happy to spend some time reading and digging deeper into this chapter.  Assessment has always been an important part to driving my small group instruction.  However, with that being said, much of my summer “to-do” lists revolves around creating and figuring out how to better implement meaning assessments to keep my guided math groups more fluid.  
How does using flexible, needs-based grouping affect student learning?  How can it affect teaching strategies employed by teachers?
By keeping groups flexible it allows teachers to best meet the needs of students.  It allow us to differentiate better.  Teachers can group students based on their strengths and needs.  Educators are then able to customize their teaching to challenge all students.  By using flexible needs-based grouping students are all able to learn the common core strategies and skill but teachers are able to teach each group in different ways to help them better understand.  

What data do you have that can guide you as you create small groups of students guided math practice?
I use an assortment of data to help create small groups amongst my first graders.  However, with that being said I am always looking for more because I know that both formal and informal assessments weaved throughout my instruction can help me to make the most of my time with each of the small groups.  
As an educator, I find myself always wanting more time.  It is the one thing I can’t change but yet I find myself always wanting more of.  This portion of the chapter I found extremely useful and beneficial to me as I strive to make every minute during my small group time count with my first graders. 
In my teaching career I quickly learned the significance of differentiating instruction for my students.  This is because I had with 28 first graders sitting in front of me every year.  I learned as I tried to teach to the “middle”  I was only really reaching a few students.  Every year my class, just like all classrooms across the country, have a range of abilities, a range of strengths and a range of struggles.  Students simply learn differently from one another.  Differentiation allows us to best meet each child’s individual learning goals.  Creating small groups of students with similar learning needs allows us to target specific areas that promote growth in students.  Small group structures allow all students to learn the core mathematical concepts while varying the way in which they learn them.  
Next year will be my eighth year teaching first graders.  EIGHT YEARS?!  How crazy, but I must say I do love these little ones.  With eight years comes knowing and understanding “mathematical hot spots” for first graders.  Hot spots are those concepts that are tricky each and every year you teach them.  No matter how many different ways you address them and how well planned out your lesson is…students still struggle with the concept.  By addressing a “hot spot” concept in small group, teachers are able to closely monitor student understanding.  When teaching a “hot spot” concept you can quickly send away students to their independent centers when they demonstrate their understanding.  If students are struggling, you can work with them to help each child better understand the mathematical concept and help alleviate any misconceptions.   
Assessment is a very important part of teaching.  We need to know and understand each student’s strengths and struggles to truly meet their learning needs.  Small group structures give teachers a wonderful opportunity to informally assess students’ learning needs.  In small group instruction teachers have the chance to interact closely with students so that meaningful informal assessments are not only possible but also taking place on a regular basis.  In small group structures assessment can take place in a variety of ways: with whiteboards, through teacher-led conversations, through peer interactions, etc. Again, small groups give teacher the opportunity to understand a student’s strengths and struggles which then allow the teacher to better meet each child’s learning targets.  
The majority of my teaching career has been working with excited, energetic six and seven year olds… so perhaps this changes as students get older…?  Teaching with manipulatives is hard, challenging, extremely difficult when trying to do it whole class.  Even if students have time at the beginning to “explore” with manipulatives when they are given base ten blocks or unifix cubes to use for math you best believe they are wanting to stack them and watch them fall (every…single… time.)  Using manipulatives in a small group setting is much more manageable.  
Using manipulatives is an important part to helping students become involved in the learning process.  Research continues to show that what we say and do helps us retain information better than simply seeing and hearing a concept being taught.  Therefore, in order to promote long-term learning it is important to engage students in hands activities. If we simply model using one set of manipulatives to the class it does not give children the opportunity to become fully engaged in their learning.   Also, when using manipulatives in a small group setting teachers can better facilitate conversations and ask guiding questions to all students to dig deeper with their understanding .  Giving children the opportunity to manipulate objects and discuss learning with peers is extremely beneficial to all involved.  
The common core is insisting students dig deeper into mathematics.  Students are no longer just required to “know” an answer but they also need to be able explain their answer.  Children need to understand the process.  Mathematics is complicated and there are a lot of pieces to every skill students are expected to learn.  “To achieve full competency in mathematics, students must also learn to problem solve, offer mathematical reasoning and proof for their mathematical ideas, communicate mathematically, make mathematical connections, and represent mathematical ideas accurately” (Sammons, 2013.) 
As teachers, we need to fully address process skills in order to help children become successful mathematicians.  By working with small groups of students, with similar learning needs, teachers are able to address the process skills in their small group instruction.  Through well thought-out questions, teachers can challenge students as well as offer support. Small groups give children the opportunity to take risks and talk about mathematical concepts in a safe environment.  Students can work through math process skills with peers and teacher guided questions.  As children share the strategies they use to solve their problems, teachers can guide them to better explain their ideas as well as guide them to form a deeper understanding.  

Here is an editable freebie that I use to help structure my small group time each week.  Please click here or the picture below to grab a copy!   

An InLinkz Link-up

Happy Thursday!

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