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  • Tandi Churchill

Math Differentiation: Supporting Students at their Individual Levels.

As a first grade math instructor, I encountered a recurring issue in regards to the range of proficiency my young mathematicians exhibited and in my ability to support each learner at his/her current level of understanding. This was no more apparent than during independent practice time. My proficient students were done in a hurry and asking what they could do next and my struggling students were sitting at their tables with their eyes glazed over, waiting for my one-on-one assistance. I would open up all of my math centers to students who were finished with their work, but these centers did not necessarily reinforce the current concept being taught. Then, I would buzz around like a bee in a flower garden from student to student, offering quick reminders, hints, and example problems to help each student have success.

I desperately wanted math materials that met each learner at his or her current level of understanding. I wanted math materials that supported my struggling students during independent practice and also offered challenges and extra practice for my proficient students. I searched high and low for differentiated math worksheets but often realized that the term "differentiated" was used quite loosely and often simply meant fewer practice problems per sheet for struggling learners or less challenging questions. While these practices are accepted forms of differentiation, I wanted something more. I wanted scaffolding in the form of student supports and hints that could give my struggling students the push that they needed to help them be successful and I needed a challenge for my proficient students. I also wanted concept-specific centers that could engaged my students who completed their assignments early in extra practice.

After years of searching, I decided that the only way I would find the kind of differentiation I desired would be to create them myself. So, I dug in my heels and created Common Core Aligned Math Units differentiated into 3 levels to match the needs of the learner to his or her current level of understanding. The worksheets allow the teacher to present the same content to students at various stages of mastery. One star worksheets are useful for students who need extra scaffolding to help them conceptualize and achieve mastery. Two star worksheets are helpful for students who are beginning to grasp the concept and three star worksheets are intended to challenge proficient students and push their thinking.

The math centers are carefully designed to reinforce each of the unit's concepts and provide fun, engaging, kinesthetic practice. The centers can be used as extra practice for students who complete their work early and/or used in teacher-directed small group settings for students who need a more concrete and kinesthetic form of practice. So far, I have created a 1st grade Place Value Unit and an Addition Unit. A Number Sense Unit will be completed shortly and then I will begin work on 1st grade math units to cover the remaining 1st grade Common Core. The worksheets and centers from each unit can be purchased separately or as a unit for a discounted price at my TpT store.

I am excited about these differentiated math units and hope they can be of help to some of my fellow math teachers who are seeking a new kind of differentiation for their young mathematicians.

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