Math Group Rotations Made Easy- Why I'll Never Teach Whole Group Math

Sunday, August 7, 2016 / 26 comments

I created my own version of math Rotations a few years ago when I just couldn’t meet the needs of all of my students doing whole group instruction.  I found that my high kids were bored and not listening, my middle of the road kids were mostly listening (I mean, I was teaching to them!!), and my low kids were staring off in space.  Not good.  That’s when I did some research and decided to do Differentiated Math Rotations.  Here is a quick overview of what I do.  I am NOT claiming to be an expert at all!! This is just works for me (and my kiddos’ state test scores)

I will also add that I DO NOT do rotations EVERY SINGLE DAY!  I still find it incredibly valuable to have students participating in Math Talks, completing Performance Events, playing Games, and figuring out difficult problems with students who are not on their level. Their conversations are so important This blog post describes the majority of my time.  


So.. how does it work you ask?  I pre-assess my students at the beginning of each unit.  Make it easy on yourself and just give them a five question multiple choice sheet that covers the topics of the unit.  That way you can QUICKLY assess their strengths and weaknesses.  I have to use our district Common Assessments, but it accomplishes the same thing.

Next, I group them according to the results.  I use the Cardinal Directions as groups because it is a Compass Rose, shaped like a cross.  There is not really a top or bottom because all four sides are important to find your way. 

       All 5 correct:  West   (advanced)
       3-4   correct: East
       2 correct:      South
       0-1 correct:    North (low)

I usually play around a little bit with the East and South groups to even out the number of kiddos.  I also assign each student a partner who is in their group to play at the game station.

Now remember, these groups are flexible.  I am constantly monitoring my students to see if they need to change groups.  I will usually get a few kids who can move up to West (advanced) and some kiddos who move up from North.  I have had a student or two who has moved down to North for a few lessons.  You are meeting your kids where they are.  I also DON’T do stations EVERY Day.  I do it MOST days!! 


Notice that North group begins with the Teacher.  This is so your low group is the first group of the day and they go directly to their desk to practice after meeting with you.

West group on the other hand, meets with you last.  The first thing that they do is practice. These kiddos can usually start an inquiry based activity alone and then meet with you later to discuss it.  Or you can have them practice something from yesterday’s lesson.

 Since the groups are flexible, I use a sticky note to record the group members’ names.  I also use pencil so that I can erase. Your groups will not always be even.  You may have to have two low groups for example.


I hot glue the other labels to a white board.  I write the materials needed and assignments students will complete at each station.


Once I have all my little honey buns in groups, I teach them about the rotations they will be making each day. Each rotation is "supposed" to last for 10 mins.  I have been "flexible" with my timing for each group, depending on their understanding of the lesson.  There are four rotations: Teacher, Desk, Game, Fast Facts. While I don’t do a whole group lesson at the beginning, we do come back for share time to talk about our new learning.


This is when the kiddos come to me at the carpet or small group table for the actual lesson that is presented on their level.
Your middle groups are easy to plan.  You just use your Math Program.  North and West are more tricky.  You have to plan specifically for them. 
I do A LOT of hands-on activities with my North group.  While I am teaching a modified version of the curriculum, I am still expecting to get them to be successful on the grade level assessment.  This takes flexible planning on your part. I KNOW my end goal and how I need to get them there, but I have no idea if this group will “get” the lesson or if I will need to reteach in a different way. I am prepared either way.

West group needs a challenge.  These are most likely your gifted learners.  They do NOT need MORE work.  They have already proven to you that they have met the grade level expectation.  These kiddos can work on performance events and projects.  You will still be teaching them, but something more advanced. 

Where do I get my resources?


At practice kiddos work on the practice assignment at their desks after the lesson.  This is usually a worksheet that students work on to continue the learning they just had.  (West group starts here first since they are the advanced group.  They get an assignment before the lesson.)





I have a game for each skill.  I usually keep the same game for one week so that I only have to explain it once. Some games are differentiated and some games are not.  We may play a game from the current unit or we may play a game from a previous unit to review skills.  






I play around with a couple of different activities for Fast Facts and what you do will depend on the availability of technology in your building.  If you have tech, keep reading, if not, scroll down.

For those with tech I HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommend Prodigy!     It is AMAZING!  My kids beg me to play it and they even go home, call each other, and play online!  This is a computer program that allows you to choose the standards, assign quizzes, and it grades it for you.  The kids love it because it lets them create a wizard avatar and they go around a magical world battling and earning coins and pets!  It’s free unless parents want to pay for their kiddos to be able to “win” more things.  Some have purchased it but most have not. 

I have also had students use www.xtramath.org for math facts.  I highly recommend this site.  We use it for homework now instead.

Before Prodigy I would have recommended www.frontrowed.com This site is AMAZING!  It gives pretests for all CCSS standards and builds a program for each student!

If you do not have technology, We create these Fact Folders.  We create them at the beginning of the year and use them for Fast Finishers.  Watch this ten second video.  You can pause if you need to!






I really hope this helps give you some ideas for Math Rotations!  If you want the already created board, check it out by clicking the pic below!

Have a great year!

26 comments:

  1. I am very interested about your method with the rotation board because I am from Mexico an here the education is very different. We dont have differences with the students all the class is similar in the same time for all. This method give me the possibility to change my class in an easy way for my students. Thx! Only I have a question... How organize the time for each rotation? Because I dont know in EUA but here in México if I put a game the students only want to do that... Thx for your answer!

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    1. The rotations are set up that they will go to each station during that day. If you look on the board it is set up by 1,2,3,4. I just stop and tell them to move to their 2nd station, etc.

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  2. I started doing groups last year, and I agree with you. They are more effective when teaching math. I had one student tell me that in whole group you can just sit there and not do anything, but if you are in a group the teacher knows if you are learning. Those tricky students. I really like how you do it. Your link to TpT store isn't good, but I found you....thanks I like how you spit them up. I'm happy to have found you.

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  3. What font did you use for the title of the board, "MATH"?

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  4. Research doesn't support ability grouping for Tier I instruction. That is what Tier III is for. Children in those "lower" groups need exposure to the thinking of "higher" kids, as well. As a principal, I don't support ability grouping in Tier I in my school.

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    1. Of course all students need exposure to HOTS. But honestly, during whole-group math isn't always going to be best time to do that. If you have students who are below mastery, let alone comfort level, on the material, you an easily confuse them. Small groups, no matter the ability, no matter the material, isn't going to be a bad thing. Is it more work for the teacher? Sure. But let's not ignore closer face-to-face time with 'Tier 1'. Every child deserves to get that time with the teacher.

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    2. I do the same things that are in this post! I get what you are saying about wanting them to integrate, but it isn't fair for either group really if you think about it. The higher kids aren't being challenged because they are with the lower students, and the lower ones rely on the higher to do the work for them or get confused easily. When they are being instructed at their own level, they can access curriculum, gain confidence, and do their best. Also, she doesn't do groups EVERY day....just most days.

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    3. Thank you ladies! Yes, like I mentioned in the post, I don't do rotations every single day, but I do on most days. If you are in the classroom you know that not all students can be reached in the same way. One method may work for one student and another works for a different student. Good teachers who are responsive to their students' needs are constantly differentiating in all subjects. My lower kiddos are not being talked down to and I still have high expectations for them. Like I mentioned in the post, my struggling students are still expected to meet the grade level expectation. I am not dumbing down anything, instead I am simply giving them more concrete examples that my other students are past. I would be so angry if my child was sitting through a whole group math lesson either bored or clueless just because my child's teacher decided whole group was best. Some days it is, but most days it is not.

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  5. I am new to your site and enjoyed reading this article. I appreciate you sharing the specifics on each rotation group, including pictures, and providing an avenue for teachers to share their thoughts and innovative ideas to meet individual student needs. All students deserve personal small group time and attention. Hats off to your work!

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  6. Seems like low expectations for the "low" kids. Wondering what the students and educators minds sets are? Fixed or growth mind sets. Where is the discourse and the ability to grow from shared mistakes?

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    1. I mentioned in the post, I don't do rotations every single day, but I do on most days. If you are in the classroom you know that not all students can be reached in the same way. One method may work for one student and another works for a different student. Good teachers who are responsive to their students' needs are constantly differentiating in all subjects. My lower kiddos are not being talked down to and I still have high expectations for them. Like I mentioned in the post, my struggling students are still expected to meet the grade level expectation. I am not dumbing down anything, instead I am simply giving them more concrete examples that my other students are past. I would be so angry if my child was sitting through a whole group math lesson either bored or clueless just because my child's teacher decided whole group was best. Some days it is, but most days it is not.

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    2. In response to the person stating it seems like low expectations for the "low" kids, I'm confused about what you don't understand. This is far from low expectations. The groups are flexible and students are pre-assessed. Therefore, what is meant by "low students" means struggling in that particular area. Meeting with them in small group is not taking away their ability to grow from shared mistakes. Chances are they all share the same mistakes and/or misconceptions and the teacher can use that to guide the discussions during the lesson. Hence, doing it this way is meeting them where they are and helping them through their struggle that is growing their brain encouraging the growth mindset.

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  7. I am a special education teacher in a 5th grade full day integrated co-teaching classroom. About half of our class struggles with what is taught in the whole group lesson, and needs reteaching in either small group or individual instruction. We then need to move on before they are ready to due to state testing. Small groups are a great way to reach each student where they are. It seems that a balance between the two would be ideal. Maybe a whole group lesson to start the week, and a whole group share at the end of each math block would work. That way the struggling students are given the opportunity to be exposed to higher thinking and/or different ways of thinking. When teachers are meeting low students where they are, they are respecting each child's way of learning, and the pace at which they learn...this has nothing to do with a "fixed" or "growth" mindset. Not all students learn in the same way, and most students that struggle have a hard time focusing during large group instruction. Getting to know your students, respecting who they are, and finding a balance of whole group/small group/ individual instruction that works for all is key. Thank you for sharing your ideas Amy!

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    1. Thank you so much!! I am so glad you understand why I believe so strongly in differientating for each learner!!

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  8. Read the research from carol deck and jo boater on fixed and growth mind sets. Might change your ideas about "low" kiddos. Such an interesting term.

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    1. Agreed! Carol Dweck, and a book specifically applying her research to math, "Mathematical Mindsets"

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  9. Your ideas for rotations are really helpful, but I will still start with an whole class explicit instruction, then use the teacher time to reinforce or extend concepts as the need arises.

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  11. My team and I have been trying to figure out how to make small math groups work for our math instruction given the block of time we have. We've noticed the exact same things with our learners during whole group and would love to provide more differentiation. Would you mind answering a couple of questions for me?
    1) How long is your total math block?
    2) If you don't do any whole group intro to the concept, how are your middle of the road kids able to complete a game if they haven't received any instruction on that concept?
    3) How long is your transition time between each rotation?
    Thanks so much!

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  12. Seriously. The term "low" is never shared with students. We don't say "okay, low kids meet me at the table". This is about kids who need help in the same area. We call them low because they need more assistance than others in order to understand the idea/standard/topic being taught...and not always, as these groups are flexible. I think most teachers understand that.

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  13. How long did it take you to set this up for classroom management? I have slowly tried to implement a version of this, but the groups that are not with me tend to be very off task. Can you share your insight?

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  14. This is a great post! thank you for sharing! I am curious if you could tell me where I can find out more information about your Math Fact Fluency Cards. Thank you!

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  16. About how much time do you do this in?

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