By: Sam Ripley
About 3 years ago, I was sitting at my desk frustrated at the lack of growth
I was seeing in math for my students. Have you ever been there? I had always
thought math was my strongest subject, but this specific year, I wasn’t feeling
that way. I started to have a conversation with my instructional coach about my
frustrations with not being able to meet the wide range of needs that my students had in math. She asked if I had ever taught math by doing math rotations, also known as Guided Math.
Yes, I had done some math centers before, but they were often thrown in at the end of a lesson and pushed off if we ran out of time that day. After continuing our conversation, I decided to observe another teacher at our school who used math rotations daily in her classroom. I was blown away by what I saw! She was able to meet with all of her students, differentiate her instruction for the wide range of skills, and give students practice with the skills.
That was all done in one day too! I decided to immediately try math rotations in
my classroom and I have never gone back to teaching math in a whole group
I have found so many benefits to teaching math in small groups using this
method. I have been able to differentiate instruction much easier. Since my
students are in groups of 6-8, I am able to look at the needs of that group when
planning my direct instruction instead of looking at the needs of the class as a
whole. I am able to differentiate these skills easier through exit slips, word
problems or activities. Another benefit is that I know where each specific student is at with their understanding of each skill instead of guessing.
In whole group teaching, I found that at times I was guessing where my student’s understanding was with the skills being taught. These benefits have caused me to continue to teach using the math rotations method.
Math anchor charts
Many of you are probably thinking about how great the idea of math rotations sounds and how you would love to try this in your class, but you don’t know how you would manage your students during small group instruction. I hear teachers often say that there is no way they could get their students to be on task during math rotations. Well, I thought the same too until I did it myself.
I learned that management during math rotations is so important and I would like to share 3 different ideas that have been helpful in my classroom!
1. Make your expectations clear! This may sound like a given, but too often, I see teachers spend a short time teaching expectations and when they jump into math rotations their students don’t know the full expectations. This is when there is confusion, off task behaviors or even some students acting out. I have found that spending extra time making expectations clear and posting those expectations, has made a huge difference in my management. You can see how I post my expectations in the photo to the left!
2. Find a time to reflect with your students about how math rotations are going in your classroom. In my class, we use “glows”, what is going well, and “grows”, what needs to be improved, all of the time.
So, when we begin each year, we end each day of rotations talking about the “glows” and “grows” for that day. Then, the next time we do rotations, we look at the “grows” we had listed on the anchor chart to see what we needed to improve that day. Some examples of “grows” may be voice levels, following directions, staying on task, etc. When we have improved on a “grow”, we move it over to the “glow” side of the anchor chart. This is a great way to reflect and help your students improve daily.
3. Provide your students with resources like anchor charts and math posters to help with their learning during math rotations. Since you, the teacher, are working with a small group of students, it is important that you give your students many resources to help them with their independent rotations. Some of my favorite resources have been anchor charts or posters used to show different strategies taught and modeled. These key word posters, in the photo to the left, are some of my student’s favorites. My students reference and use these often when working on word problems and problem solving!
Resources like these math posters are great ways to provide your students with additional help when you are working with a small group.
Math rotations have completely changed how I teach math and how my students learn in my classroom. My only regret is that I did not start teaching using this method sooner. I have seen so much growth and confidence in my students since starting these.. So, what are you waiting for? If you have been on the fence about using math rotations in your classroom, jump in, try it out and use some of these tips above to help you get started!
Sammie is on her 8th year teaching fourth grade. She's a guided Math enthusiast from North Carolina in which you can follow more of her classroom tips and activities on her Instagram: @fantastically_fourth_grade
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