Hi! I’m Penny and I’m excited to share five strategies to help students who struggle with math. I am an educator at heart! I have spent many years in the elementary classroom, as a math coach, a math interventionist, and a building administrator. I love thinking about how students learn and thrive in math and helping teachers support students through all of the “Aha!” moments. I want every child to feel accomplished in math and to love the creative thinking that is inspired by math.
Meeting the needs of all your students can be challenging due to the wide range of abilities in every classroom. Every student has their unique strengths and challenges when it comes to learning, but there are some things we can do to specifically help students who struggle with math.
We want every student to feel confident, engaged and connected to the concepts they are learning in math. Self-confidence in math carries over into other areas of learning and life. When students struggle in math it can impact the way they feel about themselves and their self-esteem.
Whether students struggle to work fluently with numbers, they have a difficult time making connections, or just don’t know how to apply mathematics to a real-life problem, these five tips can help to support students which allows them to be successful and engaged with math.
1. Provide Models and Examples
Sometimes, students find it difficult to process, or interpret written or oral directions. For students who struggle with determining first steps, they will often have a hard time getting started or even knowing what question to ask. You may hear “I don’t know what to do.” or “I don’t get it.” Having access to a sample problem is helpful to get students started.
Another strategy to promote independence is to model the first problem for the student. When we show the student how to solve the problem, and talk through our thinking as we do this, it can help students make connections and guide them on how to think about getting started with solving a problem. Another great benefit to modeling the process is the opportunity to ask questions and encourage students to talk about their own thinking. This is a window into their brain and how they are thinking about the problem.
2. Help with Reading Directions
Don’t let a student’s reading ability get in the way of their learning growth in math. Struggling to decode words doesn’t mean that students shouldn’t fully participate in problem solving, reasoning, and collaborating in math. In fact, math can provide the rich connections that students, who struggle to read, really need to see themselves as successful learners.
Going over the directions and talking about the problem as a whole group is good practice for all students, but can support students who need help with reading the problem. Start with the question that students are asked to solve. Then, work your way backward helping students with the information they need.
3. Use Easier Numbers
When students are learning a new concept, we don’t want computation to be difficult. We purposely start with the easiest numbers. For example, we wouldn’t give students, who are just learning how to divide, a division problem with a remainder. We want students to learn the concept or skill, then scaffold more difficult numbers as students are ready.
For some students, we can give them more time practicing with basic numbers so they can be more independent, more successful, and gain more confidence. This might look like substituting 2-digit numbers for 3 and 4-digit numbers, whole numbers instead of decimals, and numbers that won’t result in the need for regrouping when adding or subtracting.
4. Shorten the Assignment
Students who work slowly, are just beginning to learn a new concept or skill, or have a difficult time staying focused, can become overwhelmed by an entire page of problems. Shorten the length of the assignments by intentionally selecting problems for the student based on their skill and ability to finish their work within the same time frame as other students. Talk with the student about how many problems they think they can finish and choose problems that will give them the targeted practice they need.
5. Continue to Work on Fact Fluency
Students who struggle, often struggle with fact fluency. Once their fluency with numbers improve, they find problem solving becomes easier. Once problem solving becomes easier, it opens the way for making connections due to the increase in exposure and practice with numbers.
A great comparison to this trajectory is moving from struggling to decode, to actually being able to comprehend and make meaning from a text.
Incorporating games and activities to practice fact fluency can be a fun way for students to engage in math. Click here for free fluency activity. Short periods of time, on a daily basis can really help students become familiar and fluent with facts and mental math. Fact fluency is also a great way to put the learner in charge since it is easy for students to track their fluency progress over time.
Helping Students Who Struggle
Intentionally using strategies to help your students be able to access math instruction, and grow in their learning, can change the landscape of your classroom. Getting to know your students’ strengths and areas that need support is the first step in helping them achieve great success in math.
Need activities, freebies and bright ideas to make your math classroom a truly amazing and engaging space for all students? Visit me at www.sweet-life-learning.com, email me at [email protected] or visit my TPT store Math – It Works.
Penny Andrews is an educator and writer who lives in the Pacific Northwest. When not creating math content, she can be found reading, solving math puzzles, blogging and traveling. She can be found online at www.sweet-life-learning