###### Are math centers only for primary grades?

###### Is it necessary to rotate centers?

###### How do I manage math centers and make sure students are on task?

Upper-grade teachers, if you are asking yourself any of these questions, you are not alone! As many of you may already know, I have taught a variety of grade levels and worked with several teachers, both new and veteran. One thing that I have noticed is that differentiated centers seem to stop at third grade.

**Why?!!!**

Honestly, I wholeheartedly believe that all upper-grade classrooms should be differentiated, and centers are the perfect way to do that! Having said that, I do not rotate stations in the upper grades. Instead, I meet with groups as needed. I do not meet with every student for the exact same amount of time. Let me tell you how I came to this realization…

When I first started teaching upper grades, I was placed in a fourth grade. Now, before that, I had almost exclusively worked with kindergarteners and first graders. So, going from K-1 to grade 4 was a HUGE JUMP!!! I of course was in the routine of math rotations. So, I implemented them just I had done in the primary grades.

After about two weeks, I realized that the stations were not working as well as they had with the younger kiddos. It had nothing to do with management, but I was contantly feeling rushed during my lessons.

What I realized was that 15-20 minutes for an upper-grade lesson was not nearly enough, especially for struggling learners.Although it was enough time for the advanced learners, my intervention kids needed more teacher time. I thought to myself, “There must be a better way…”

Thus, I made it my teacher goal to figure out a way to teach small groups while meeting the unique needs of each of my groups. Over the next two years, I worked on being able to differentiate without rotating stations.

I decided to use a task chart instead. Each group would have three tasks in every math lesson, one of them being a lesson with me. I also decided

notto meet with my advanced learners every day. This would allow me to meet with the students who needed me the most more often.

Once I made these adjustments, I almost immediately started seeing results. I was not feeling so rushed, my advanced learners were more engaged, and my struggling learners started to progress academically.

Now, I know what you are thinking…that’s not fair to my advanced learners. Let me explain…I truly believe that not all learning requires a teacher. Students can and should learn independently and/or with partners. There are so many online programs that will provide online lessons, thus allowing your advanced learners to participate in the “flipped classroom” model. Although I will be writing a blog post dedicated to this model in my next blog post, I would like to take a moment to briefly introduce this instructional model.

## What is a “flipped classroom”? Why use it?

In a traditional “flipped classroom”, students learn new material at home and then participate in problem-solving and enrichment activities while in class. I incorporate this idea but only within the four walls of my classroom.

Let me give an example…in any curriculum, essential standards are usually scaffolded into several lessons, thus allowing students to gradually build their skills. Adding and subtracting unlike fractions, for example, may be divided into three lessons: equivalent fractions, adding fractions, and subtracting fractions. Although struggling learners will need all three lessons, advanced learners do not. They could probably get this concept in 1 or 2 lessons. Having them sit through three full lessons with several examples in each lesson not only disengages them but does not give them the opportunity to work on challenging problems and activities.

Instead, I would meet with them on the first day and teach all three concepts in one lesson. Every step of the way, I would have them solve a problem in front of me so I know whether we can move on or not. Since it is a small group rather than the entire class, I can easily observe each student as they work. At the end of the lesson, I have students solve two or three “check for understanding” questions. They solve them and show me their answers. They also rank their understanding on a scale of 1-4 (4 meaning they could tutor someone else and 1 meaning they need teacher help). If they are able to add and subtract unlike fractions by the end of the lesson *AND* feel confident in the new skills, they are excused to work on their exit tickets individually. Over the next two days, while I meet with other students, these advanced learners participate in one of the following activities: enrichment activities that will challenge them on adding/subtracting fractions (i.e. performance tasks), math games that target adding/subtracting fractions, or preview lessons for the next skill. This makes learning fun for them. They are constantly being challenged, whether that be working on higher-level problems or at a faster pace.

## How long does it take to plan a task chart every day? How can I make this process manageable?

Good news!!! It only takes a few minutes to get these tasks ready! I highly recommend getting some dry-erase magnets and writing tasks on them that you will use frequently. For me, I have magnets with the following tasks: lesson, exit ticket, Zearn, ST Math, Byrdseed (for advanced learners), and IReady (math intervention). If I ever want to give a task not already on a magnet, I simply write it directly on the whiteboard. I use colored magnetic folders to organize my exit tickets.

Every day before I leave, I rearrange my magnetic tasks on the board. I am strategic when deciding which groups to meet with and for how long. The tables below show an example weekly schedule for when I am introducing a new math concept.

*Please note that each task is not the same amount of time. For instance, task one does not take 20 minutes. This is because I want to be flexible with the time allotted for each group’s lesson. I simply call each group for lesson when it is their turn. Students work through the other tasks at their own pace.* *Basically, the students go through their tasks independently until I call them up for a lesson.*

**Monday’s Math Tasks**

Group | Task 1 | Task 2 | Task 3 |

Square | IReady or Pre-Assessment | Introductory Lesson | Partners: Exit Ticket |

Triangle | Introductory Lesson | Exit Ticket | Pre-Assessment |

Trapezoid | Introductory Lesson | Exit Ticket | Pre-Assessment |

Diamond | Pre-Assessment | Zearn (Flipped Classroom) | Check-In Lesson 1 |

Circle | Pre-Assessment | Zearn (Flipped Classroom) | Check-In Lesson 1 |

Notice that I gave a pre-assessment since we were starting a new math domain. This allows me to change the groups if needed and also informs me which skills the class has already mastered. After this first introductory lesson, I will be able to decide which lessons each group needs.

Square Group: This group should have some kind of intervention program. For us, we use IReady. This provides online instruction to help fill-in the learning gaps from previous grade levels.

Triangle and Trapezoid Groups: These two groups are made up of near grade-level students (triangle) and grade-level students (trapezoid). The kids I put in the trapezoid group often benefit from extra teacher support. These are also kids who started the year below grade-level but have made significant progress.

Diamond and Circle Groups: Notice that my grade-level group (diamond) and my advanced group (circle) participate in the “flipped classroom” model. This is the model we discussed earlier in this blog post. The idea is that students are introduced to a new concept *BEFORE* the lesson with me. This allows us to have more of a check-in rather than a full lesson. During the check-in, I address any misconceptions, answer questions they have about the new skill, and provide more challenging problems that require higher-order thinking skills. These check-ins are often very brief and end with a “check for understanding’ question. This question gives students the opportunity to prove they have mastered the skill at hand before exiting the lesson. Since the check-ins are so brief, these students spend most of the math block either working ahead or participating in enrichment activities.

**Tuesday’s Math Tasks**

Group | Task 1 | Task 2 | Task 3 |

Square | Lesson 1 | Partners: Exit Ticket | IReady or Math Game |

Triangle | Zearn (re-teaching) | Lesson 2 | Partners: Exit Ticket |

Trapezoid | Zearn (re-teaching) | Lesson 2 | Exit Ticket |

Diamond | Partners: Exit Ticket | Zearn (Flipped Classroom) | Check-In Lessons 2-3 |

Circle | Exit Ticket | Zearn (Flipped Classroom) | Check-In Lessons 2-3 |

**Tuesday’s Math Tasks**

Square Group: I chose to start with the square group today because I knew that I would need a longer lesson for this first skill. If I need to bump the check-in lesson with diamond and circle groups, I will. I can always meet with them the next day.

Triangle and Trapezoid Groups: Notice that I use Zearn for these groups. Rather than work ahead like diamond and circle groups, these two groups use Zearn as a way of seeing the lesson a second time. Online programs can be used to reinforce previously taught skills. This consistent re-teaching will help solidify the students’ understanding.

Diamond and Circle Groups: I often get tasked why I have so many groups if I do not meet with all of them separately. The reason is that I have found that students benefit from hearing the thinking of peers who are performing at a higher level. Therefore, I have my grade-level students in the same lesson as the advanced learners. The difference is that for more challenging material, I have them work in partners on their exit tickets. Please note that the flipped classroom model is allowing me to teach more than one lesson to these kids. This is because by the time they come to me, they have already watched a video and practiced the new skills.

**Wednesday’s Math Tasks**

Group | Task 1 | Task 2 | Task 3 |

Square | IReady or Math Game | Lesson 2 | Partners: Exit Ticket |

Triangle | Lesson 3 | Exit Ticket | Zearn (re-teaching) |

Trapezoid | Lesson 3 | Exit Ticket | Zearn (re-teaching) |

Diamond | Partners: Exit Ticket | Zearn (Flipped Classroom) | Lesson 4-5 |

Circle | Exit Ticket | Zearn (Flipped Classroom) | Lesson 4-5 |

**Wednesday’s Math Tasks**

Square Group: If your students are struggling with their math facts, make sure to allow time for them to practice them by playing some fluency games. Various dice games and card games are easy ways to practice math facts!

Triangle and Trapezoid Groups: Notice that I did not have triangle group work in partners on their exit tickets. This is because the standard taught was not too challenging, and I would like to see how they do on their own.

Diamond and Circle Groups: In this example, lesson 5 is more of an enrichment lesson. It may be a lesson with story problems or that requires critical thinking skills. This is why I planned a full lesson with my diamond and circle groups. By the end of the lesson, I would like for them to have mastered this challenging skill.

**Thursday’s Math Tasks**

Group | Task 1 | Task 2 | Task 3 |

Square | IReady or Math Game | Lesson 3 | Partners: Exit Ticket |

Triangle | Lesson 4 | Partners: Exit Ticket | Zearn (re-teaching) or Math Game |

Trapezoid | Lesson 4 | Exit Ticket | Zearn (re-teaching) or Math Game |

Diamond | Partners: Exit Ticket | Byrdseed Math Project | Zearn (Flipped Classroom) |

Circle | Exit Ticket | Byrdseed Math Project | Zearn (Flipped Classroom) |

**Thursday’s Math Tasks**

Square Group: Notice that I always allow my intervention kids to work on their exit tickets with a partner. This peer support helps them master new skills. These partners are assigned and within their same math group.

Triangle and Trapezoid Groups: If these groups ever get too far ahead on their online learning, consider having them play a math game instead.

Diamond and Circle Groups: Most of the math time will be spent working on their math projects. If they finish early, they will continue to work ahead on Zearn. *Always have a planned task in case the kids finish early. This task should be something ongoing rather than a worksheet.* The beauty of a flipped classroom model is that the more they work ahead, thequicker your future check-ins will be. Trust me, once you implement this type fo learning, you will never go back!

**Friday’s Math Tasks**

Group | Task 1 | Task 2 | Task 3 |

Square | IReady or Math Game | Lesson 4 or Intervention | Partners: Exit Ticket |

Triangle | Lesson 5 | Partners: Exit Ticket | Math Game |

Trapezoid | Lesson 5 | Partners: Exit Ticket | Math Game |

Diamond | Byrdseed Math Project | Math Game | Zearn (Flipped Classroom) |

Circle | Byrdseed Math Project | Math Game | Zearn (Flipped Classroom) |

**Friday’s Math Tasks**

Square Group: Notice that I do not cover lesson 5 with this group. This is a choice. If your students are not ready for the enrichment lesson, it is okay to skip it completely. Use this time to reinforce essential skills or re-teach if needed. It is better for students to master essential standards rather than just be introduced to every standard but not master any of them.

Triangle and Trapezoid Groups: For more challenging lessons, like lesson 5 in this example, I usually have both groups work in partners on their exit tickets. I would highly recommend teaching these groups the challenging lessons. Although I may skip these types of lesson for my intervention group, I want to at least expose my near grade-level kids to these enrichment lessons. They may not master them at first, but over time, they will encourage critical thinking skills.

Diamond and Circle Groups: Today’s main goal for these two groups is to finish their math projects. Again, if they finish early, they have assigned tasks they can do on their own. For the math game, I usually have them play in partners or trios. This could be any type of math game (i.e. card games, dice games, folder games, etc.).

## How do I train my students to work independently?

Teachers often wonder how they can train their students to work independently. I want to share a few tips and tricks I have learned that will help your math classroom run smoothly.

**Train your kids how to prepare for a lesson with you.**For example, in my classroom, students know that they are to come to the lesson with the following supplies: math notebook, dry-erase supplies, and clipboard. (I use dry-erase clipboards, which were SO worth the investment!)**Have students get ready for the lesson while they wait for you.**I have students write down the lesson’s title and learning objective while waiting for instruction. This frees up time for you to check in with the other groups or “put out fires” if needed. (I would love to say that this never happens, but as teachers, we know that sometimes it does.) When I am finishing up with the previous group (“check for understanding” question), I give the next group a five-minute warning. During this time, they clean up their activity and get their math supplies. While they wait for instruction, they write the title and objective in their notebooks. Sometimes, I even have them identify important key terms in the objective.**Use music!**Playing classical music during math does wonders. It calms the students and helps keep them focused. I also recommend having timed music to help with transitions. For us, we have a 1.5-minute song that signals to students they should be writing down the title and objective in their notebooks. By the time the music ends, they know I am going to begin the lesson.**Plan partner work strategically.**I never have too many groups working in pairs simultaneously. This prevents the classroom from getting too noisy or chaotic. Remember your focus should be on the lesson, not on quieting down the classroom. With practice and training, this system works. Trust me.

After years of trial and error, reading about differentiation, and chatting with other educators, I have finally found a way to make small-group learning work in my upper-grade classroom. Now, I absolutely love the way I teach math! It is honestly one of my favorite times of the day.

Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have. I would love to help you get your small-group lessons started! Email me at learning-n-progress.com or comment below.

**Other Blog Posts Your May Enjoy**

Th 5 Ws of Differentiated Instruction | Dive-into what differentiated instruction looks like in an elementary school classroom. |

Differentiated Literacy Centers: A Primary Teacher’s Guide | Learn how to incorporate phonics instruction, fluency passages, and technology into your literacy centers. |

5 Goals of Reading Workshop: Is It Effective? | Learn about the many benefits of Reading Workshop. |

5 Tips on How to Launch Reading Workshop Successfully | Learn how to level books, celebrate student successes, and recommend books to students. |