This Week’s Feature: Differentiated Math Groups

This week I bring you a write up from Mandy who is a really amazing, super organized, teacher at my school. Her classroom is remarkable to walk into because there is evidence everywhere that she has a procedure and routine in place for everything. This gives her students a safe environment to build independence because they know exactly what is expected of them. When I first heard about how she and the other 6th grade teacher are running math groups I was overwhelmed by the idea of two groups running on totally different lessons at the same time, but as Mandy will explain she has a system for that! I am so happy to share this with you all because I feel that it is so important for every student to experience mastery of a concept.

I hope you read and enjoy this as much as I did!

Mandy Purcell
6th grade
Worcester Massachusetts

Tell us about what is working in your classroom?

This year we began a new math program called EnVisions Math. Aligned with the Common Core Standards and far more student-centered, the EnVisions program struck me as a program that would work for our students. Although the program embeds many opportunities for differentiation, it was not enough for the students in my classroom. The program begins with number sense; building the foundation for their yearlong (and lifelong) study of mathematics. Throughout the unit it became clear to me that a handful of my students were not grasping these critically important concepts.

These observations along with formative and summative assessment led me to create two math groups in my classroom. One group consists of the students who are on grade level or above grade level (Group A). The other group consists of students who are currently performing below grade level in mathematics (Group B). During each math block we are simultaneously running two lessons, with two groups, on two different topics. Both groups will eventually cover the same content; however the speed and teaching techniques are different. While students in Group A may take one day to cover a particular lesson, it is feasible that students in Group B may need to spend two to three days covering the material. By splitting the class into two groups students are given the opportunity to master the material without being forced along by the momentum of their classmates. As a teacher, this form of differentiation also allows me to teach my students in ways that work better for them. My students in Group B respond well to visuals and manipulatives, while those in Group A can grasp material in different ways. This year, Group B is a small group of only six students. This allows us to give them more one-on-one attention and support.

Why do you think this practice is working?

​I believe this practice is working because of my classroom community. I put in a lot of work at the beginning of the year laying the groundwork for how I expect my students to treat one another. We discuss, model, and practice what it means to be a member of our classroom family. It is my belief that this practice helps students to feel comfortable in the classroom and feel as though they are respected and supported by their classmates.

​I also believe this practice is effective because the students are seeing and understanding math in a more complete way. Since students are grouped by ability, they don’t move on until they have developed mastery over a concept. This is increasing their confidence in mathematics and allowing them to experience the feeling of a true and complete understanding.

How did you set this practice up in your classroom?

​I set this practice up in my classroom toward the middle/end of September. I wanted to give my students time to adjust to me and my classroom before making any decisions about their mathematical abilities. I also felt like I needed to gather several weeks of data before I could make an informed decision about my students. Once I determined the need for two math groups I began planning two math lessons for each day. Since my students are sixth graders, I wanted to be sensitive about the way I presented them with this change. I chose to pull the students slated for Group B out of the classroom and discuss my plans with them. I explained to them why I felt they needed this support and how important it was that they understand the concepts before moving on. Since I was also someone who struggled with math as a child, I was able to include a personal anecdote to help ease their minds about my decision.

​My class adjusted surprisingly well to the change. They were very supportive of each other and respectful. Although I didn’t anticipate issues, I was unsure of the response I would receive. Students now begin their day with a math message (do now problem) that is specifically for their group. They complete Minute Math (timed multiplication/division) which they progress through at their own pace. They play a quick math game with a partner whose fact knowledge is comparable to theirs. When it’s time for the math lesson the smaller group generally gathers at the front of the room or at the table outside the classroom. Sometimes I jump between groups, teaching and then giving them partner or independent work to do while I switch to the other group. At other times my student teacher will work with one group while I work with the other. The students have become so well-adjusted to the program that they’re able to handle the process. They are also assigned different homework assignments based upon their group and level.

Can you suggest any resources (links/books/articles) that would help someone else set this practice up?

​The Responsive Classroom:


This Moment: Snow Day!

From Soulemama

{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.


Check It Out: Rethinking Math

I am in a constant struggle with teaching math… The problem is not that I hate math, in fact I really love math! I like problem solving, it’s like puzzles (which I also weirdly love). So, what is my flipping problem, you ask?

My issue is that I can’t figure out how to transmit my love of math to students. I find teaching math frustrating because I can’t find the hook for my students. So of course, I am handling this by scouring the internet and watching videos like the one below…

I hope you’re as nerdy excited about this as I am!

Leave a comment if you have any math advice for me. Also we will hopefully have some more math related content in this weeks feature!

Have a great end to your week. The expected snow here might just make our week a bit shorter than usual… Think snowy thoughts!


(Me and my mom in the last storm)

Book Shopping

While I’m on the search for volunteers to feature, I figured I would change things up a bit and give you a little window into what’s going well in my classroom.

I have worked hard to develop a reading culture in my room and my efforts have been met by great interest and willingness by my students to go along for the book-loving ride! My absolute favorite day of the week is Friday (and not only because of the inherent wonderfulness of Fridays). I love Fridays because it is book shopping day!

My students each have a book bag as part of Daily 5 and on Fridays we take all of the book containers in my library and spread them out on the tables. Then students gather in our meeting area to go through their books- to trade, discuss and return the books they have been reading. This has evolved into a pretty free flowing period of time.

20130202-074223.jpg (this bag is home for repair this weekend)

But in the beginning of the year it was very structured and I would lead the whole exchange. I prompted students, asking them to look at the books they picked and think about which books they read and which books they never got to. I would ask them to make a reasonable plan about how many and what types (picture books, leveled readers, nonfictions and chapter books) of books they would need to have to make it through a whole week. I would also check their bags after they shopped in order to make sure they had “good fit” books that gave them a range of reading to do throughout the week.

Now, at this point in the year, I am much more hands off. Obviously, I’m there and I still walk them through the procedure but they have really developed an internal sense of their reading interests and abilities. This has freed me up to walk around the room and suggest books I think certain kids might like or to meet with kids who aren’t sure what they want to read next.


It has grown into a time when you can wander into my room and hear the buzz of book loving 8 and 9 year olds (my favorite!). I hear the best conversations too! Kids telling each other why they should check out this book or that. Kids actually chomping at the bit to trade books that they have seen each other reading all week. Plus some really sweet moments where kids are negotiating who should get the last copy of a classroom favorite. They navigate these interaction with great poise, most of the time, saying things like, “I’ve really been waiting to read that book, can I take it this week?” or “you can take it but will you give it to me as soon as you are done!?!”

It really is heart melting. This is not to say its a perfect system. In the beginning I was very unsure about committing a full half hour of our day to this, there are squabbles here and there, and it does feel chaotic at times (which generally speaking I try to avoid at all costs). However I have seen great reading come out of this and that alone makes it worth it to me!


Next week if I’m still featureless I will tell you about our “promise books” and the writing my students are doing from their independent reading.

Have a great week and come back soon!

This Moment

From Soulemama

{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.