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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.
o Use informal techniques frequently during regular class time to
gauge student understanding.

o Use questioning that focuses on student thinking and reasoning

to help you monitor your students.

o Incorporate writing activities and group work to observe

student thinking and identify misconceptions and gaps in

o Have students illustrate concepts using drawings, graphs, and


• 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
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

• 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

o Show examples of parallel and perpendicular lines in architecture

and art.
o Give students straws to model these lines.
o Use dynamic geometry, such as the Geometer's Sketchpad
software, to demonstrate parallel and perpendicular lines.

o 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.