Supporting Learners who Struggle in Math

In a given classroom of students, you will naturally have those at various levels of learning. While it is important to strive to help all students excel, let’s focus specifically on some intervention tips to support students who have not yet reached grade-level work in math:


  • Build on foundational skills: Math is made up of building blocks. There are foundational skills that need to be mastered before another layer of blocks can be added. For a student who has not yet reached grade level in math, some of their layers may be complete, while others have gaps. It is important to determine where those gaps are so they can be filled. Our resource book of games and activities makes it easy to meet your students where they are, regardless of skill level!
    • Use low-floor, high-ceiling tasks to give all students within your classroom access to grade-level content. Scaffold instruction and activities to help students understand concepts and progress in their mastery of each grade-level skill. 
    • Use intervention, RTI, and/or MTSS time to build the foundational skills students still need to learn. 


  • Celebrate student strengths and efforts, and encourage a growth mindset: Many students who have not yet reached grade level recognize that they are behind their peers. This can be very discouraging for them. It is important to celebrate the strengths they already possess, saying things like “You already know how to…” and “I knew you could do it.”  Praise their efforts and progress along the way, and encourage a growth mindset and the power of the word “yet.” Use compliments like, “That was a hard one, and you stuck with it!” and “It’s okay if you don’t understand this yet. It may take time, and you’ll get it.” These students often need more positive affirmation than their peers who are operating on grade level. They need you as their teacher to believe they can be successful. They also need your encouragement to believe that their own efforts can result in successful learning. Celebrate their little successes along the way and encourage them to speak positively about their progress with comments such as, “I don’t understand this yet, but I know I will soon.” 


  • Verbalize the thought process: Our students aren’t mind readers any more than we are as teachers. (Honestly, it would probably be scary to know what goes on in each other’s minds at times, right?) It can be helpful to verbalize our thought process as we work through various math problems. This helps students better understand the problem and be able to consider specific steps needed to solve the problem or options for ways to solve it. Encourage them to verbalize their thought process to you as they solve problems. 


  • Be patient with the student and yourself: It can be frustrating when a student is struggling with a math concept or skill. Be patient with the student, especially if you know they are trying their best. Also, remember to be patient with yourself. It can be difficult to figure out multiple ways to present a concept or teach a skill. Seek out additional resources to expand your options. Just continue working towards a solution and be proud of the efforts being made by your student and yourself.  


  • Use one-on-one, small group instruction, and peer tutoring: One study has shown that peer tutoring and small group instruction have the potential to notably decrease the gaps in student learning. Students who are struggling in math often benefit from smaller settings that focus on their specific needs. It can provide a safe place for them to ask questions, offer possible solutions to a problem, and increase participation.


  • Break concepts into smaller steps: Use scaffolded instruction, beginning with guided practice. Keep in mind that it may take these students longer to master each step in a multi-step problem. Allow for the extra time needed for them to be successful with each step before adding the next one. 


  • Focus on the skill of that lesson and provide resources for recall if needed: Consider the following situation in which a student is struggling to remember the steps of a long-division problem: They also need help recalling multiplication facts. What is the objective of the lesson? To be able to solve a long-division problem. In this situation, provide a chart of multiplication facts for them to easily reference so the focus stays on mastering the steps of the long-division problem and they don’t get discouraged when struggling with the multiplication facts. Of course, the eventual goal is for them to master all of it, but it is okay to provide resources to help with recall along the way. Need help finding engaging math resources? Check out our supplemental math resources!


  • Seek advice from other teachers: If your school doesn’t have an intervention/resource teacher who will be the primary one helping students who have not yet reached grade level, then reach out to other teachers to get advice on how best to meet your student’s needs. Maybe they have encountered similar situations, have taken a recurring training class geared towards helping students reach grade level, or are simply someone to bounce ideas off of. 

  • Use visual representations and manipulatives: Students who are struggling with the abstract concepts of math need more concrete representations to help them understand. Visual aids in the form of number lines, charts, drawings, videos, etc. can help them to picture the concept. Manipulatives provide a hands-on way for them to process the concept physically. Visit our YouTube channel, Origo One, for short, one-minute explainer videos to help drive home math concepts!


  • Communicate with parents or guardians: While some students sadly do not have a supportive home life, thankfully many do. So be sure to regularly communicate with parents or guardians to relay how they can help their child practice math skills at home, offer various resources such as apps and computer games to reinforce skills in a fun yet educational format, celebrate the efforts and progress being made, and give insight back to you on strategies they have found that work well. Also, encourage families to share how they use math at home and in their jobs to make math relevant outside of the school setting. 


At ORIGO, we recognize that students learn at a different pace. This is why every Stepping Stones lesson includes up to three differentiation activities to support and build young learners’ skills and knowledge. The curriculum has built-in resources, such as newsletters about each module and ORIGO One videos, to allow parents and caregivers to provide follow-up home support for their child. No matter their current level, you can meet the needs of each of your students with Origo!

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ORIGO Education

ORIGO Education has partnered with educators for over 25 years to make math learning meaningful, enjoyable and accessible to all.

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