Math Monday: Strategies for Struggling Students - Blog Hop

Unbelievably, it is already the last Monday of the month which means the Math Monday Blog hop.  This month's theme is strategies for struggling students.  I share my own ideas below and then check out links to other math teachers' blogs in the links at the bottom.

In my first year teaching, I had a parent conference where the mom told us that since about 4th grade, they had realized that her "daughter just couldn't do math," and yes, her daughter was in the room.  No wonder her daughter was struggling!  

Students struggle in math for many reasons: maybe they are told they can't do math, or maybe they missed an earlier concept or maybe it is taking them longer than others to grasp a new concept.  It's my job to support students who are struggling.  While I am all for students persevering through tough problems or concepts, it is also important to provide students the support they need.  One strategy I use is a problem rating system.

The problem rating system is similar, I believe, to exit tickets, but I haven't used exit tickets personally, so I am just going off what I have read.  The system is simple.  After practice of any new concept, I ask students to rate 3 - 4 problems that they have completed on their own.  The scale is 0 (I can do this in my head) to 10 (I don't have even a clue where to start).  If students are grading the problems with a low number, I know they are ready to move on...if not, then it is time to give additional ways to work with the material.  

When I first started the grading system, students tended to state their skill level a bit high.  For example a student might grade multiple problems a 2 or 3 but then when they took the assessment, it was clear they really didn't have a grasp of the concept.  So students learned that it didn't do them any good to try to go through a concept faster.  It is better to learn and master concept rather than fail.  

When students show they don't get a concept, it's then important to identify the problem. Sometimes it isn't the concept that they are working on but a previous one.  A student who is struggling with negative and fractional exponents is likely to find exponential equations difficult.  Once the problem is identified, then we focus on strategies for helping students get through the next concept such as additional inquiry or practice.  I used a narrative with exponential equation practice for a student just last week who was feeling lost.  By the end of the detective activity, she was pretty comfortable and giving problems that previous were receiving a "9" on the rating system a "2".

I love the system because it really catches most students.  The challenge is that students are not always on the same page (so to speak) which means I have to be VERY organized in tracking progress.

Check out more strategies for struggling students in the posts below and share your own in the comments section.


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3 comments

  1. Great idea for instant formative assessment... thanks for sharing!

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  2. I love the detective idea. I will definitely give this more thought for my upper level students. Thanks for sharing. Jean

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  3. Doc, it probably came as no surprise that students over-rated their capacity at first--few students want to admit that they struggle in math. But through your problem-rating system you have gently trained students to honestly assess their capacity, and understand that acknowledging weakness in a certain skill doesn't mean surrender. You also gave them custom pathways to tackle areas of difficulty--a way forward for each student. Exemplary!

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