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Intervention Strategies for Mathematics Teachers

Intervention has become an important way for teachers to ensure that all students succeed in today's high stakes testing environment. Helping students who are struggling with mathematics requires teachers to choose an appropriate time and strategy for the intervention. Without a systematic approach, this can be a challenge for teachers who have multiple students in need of help.

Following are some easy strategies to help you identify students who may benefit from intervention, and address the needs of those students.

Step One: Identify
Use the following easy and effective strategies to help you identify students who may be struggling and who may benefit from intervention strategies.
  • Use Formal and Informal Assessments
    No single instructional strategy is more important than effective, appropriate, and informative assessment. It is critical that teachers are well-informed about their students' understanding and mastery of content. But assessment should also be handled with restraint—too much testing may produce students who are weary and overwhelmed. Use the following techniques when assessing your students.
    • Use informal techniques frequently during regular class time to gauge student understanding.

    • Use questioning that focuses on student thinking and reasoning to help you monitor your students.

    • Incorporate writing activities and group work to observe student thinking and identify misconceptions and gaps in understanding.

    • Have students illustrate concepts using drawings, graphs, and models.

  • Integrate Warm-Up Activities The use of quick warm-up activities in class can be beneficial for several reasons. One of the most common reasons students may need intervention is that they have not fully mastered prerequisites. You can use warm-up activities to review prerequisites and to gauge student mastery. Begin your lessons by having your students complete several problems that cover prerequisites. This technique will also give you time to circulate among your students and have quiet one-on-one conversations. These discussions can be used as valuable informal assessment opportunities.

    Warm-Up Activity
    For a unit on solving systems of linear inequalities, ask students to solve several inequalities as a warm-up activity. Then have your students graph a few inequalities.

  • Write to Learn
    Having students write in math class can help you identify areas of misunderstanding and gaps in understanding. Begin your instructional units by having your students write explanations of several key prerequisites. Students may feel more comfortable writing and may be more apt to expose their weaknesses in their writing. This can be especially true for struggling students who may be inclined to stay quiet during discussions. Use math journals to have students record the steps they undertook to solve a problem. You can use their explanations as a form of error analysis to help you identify gaps in understanding.

  • Assign Application Problems
    Make sure that you utilize a variety of techniques to gauge depth of understanding in your students. Some students who have a cursory understanding of a topic may be able to perform relatively well on standard assessment questions. However, the lack of mastery of a concept can be illuminated via application problems. This exercise can be especially important prior to moving on to a new concept. An application problem can identify students who have not thoroughly mastered a concept and who will likely require intervention if they move on to a new concept too soon.
Step Two: Address the Issues
Using the following instructional strategies to help you address the needs of your students.
  • Use Small Groups or Student Pairs
    Having your students work in small groups or in student pairs is a beneficial instructional strategy for struggling students. Students who need intervention may be insecure about their abilities and consequently unmotivated. Small groups or student pairs can be less intimidating for struggling students. Students may be more likely to ask questions and admit confusion when working in small groups or with another student.

    Students can also benefit from explanations from fellow students. Often these explanations can make more sense to a student than one offered from an instructor. This instructional strategy can enable teachers to spend time listening to and observing students as they work on assignments.

    The grouping of students should be carefully thought out ahead of time to best address the needs of struggling students. For many cooperative group activities, random assignments are fine, but in the case of students in need of intervention, you will want to form groups or pairs that will be conducive to discussion and support.

  • Differentiate Instruction
    When it comes to addressing students who need intervention, differentiated strategies may improve learning. Many students who need intervention struggle to learn concepts because they may not be able to grasp abstract concepts. Vary your instructional techniques to best address the learning styles of your struggling students. Some students may not understand a concept when illustrated symbolically, but may be able to understand it when it is illustrated concretely, either via models, manipulatives, or technology. The more varied instructional strategies you incorporate into your lessons, the more likely you will be able to reach all students.

  • Incorporate Multiple Representations
    Many middle and upper grade students require intervention because they are not able to grasp the abstract concepts of higher levels of mathematics. The use of multiple representations can help address these needs. When introducing a new concept, use as many representations of the concept as you can: use manipulatives and models, real-life examples, technology, and symbolic representations.

    Try This
    For a lesson on parallel and perpendicular lines, use the following multiple representations:
    • Show examples of parallel and perpendicular lines in architecture and art.
    • Give students straws to model these lines.
    • Use dynamic geometry, such as the Geometer's Sketchpad software, to demonstrate parallel and perpendicular lines.
    • Have your students record in their math journals several examples of lines that can be found in the world around them.

  • Emphasize Real-Life Applications
    Help students see the value and application of the mathematics they are studying by presenting as many real-life applications as you can. By relating a math topic to something relevant in a student's life, you can help increase a student's interest in the topic, and help make mathematics more meaningful. This can be especially beneficial for struggling students who may not be able to see how the math they are studying has any relevance to their daily lives. Many real-life applications of mathematics can make the content more interesting to struggling students. By increasing their interest, you can help increase their motivation.

  • Learn About Tutoring Options
    In addition to these instructional strategies, you should also learn about tutoring options that may be available to your students.
  • Does your school have an after-school tutoring program?
  • Are there low-cost tutoring centers near your school?
  • Are there any mentoring programs available for your students?
    Know the tutoring options that are available for the students who may need something extra to help address their needs.

  • Consider Seating Arrangements
    Sometimes intervention can be as simple as where your students sit in your classroom. Sometimes physical placement can get overlooked once students reach the middle and upper grades. Strategically seat your struggling students in the best location in your classroom, where they feel most comfortable, can focus on the lesson, and may benefit from a helpful student peer nearby.
This article was contributed by Heidi Janzen, a former classroom teacher and mathematics specialist. She now works as an educational consultant in the areas of professional development, curriculum, standards, and assessment.

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