If you are like me, you are frequently frustrated with the options for interventions for struggling readers in the intermediate grades.  No matter how low a student is, a 10 year old doesn't really want to read "Henry and Mudge" or "Billy's New Shoes"--not when their friends are reading and understanding Percy Jackson and Diary of a Wimpy Kid!

That being said, we know that students need "just right" instruction and just right books to read.  There ARE some great series starting to appear on the market that look like more "grown up" books with high interest topics yet at accessible reading levels.  The "Branches" books seem to really be getting this concept, and I am about to invest some money in more of them to appeal to those struggling readers who are several grade levels behind!  (I included a few links at the bottom of this post if you haven't seen these books)

What about those "gray area students--the ones who might slip through the cracks?

For those students who are CLOSE to grade level, I try to find short interventions that don't take away from their independent reading time but give me some one-on-one time working on critical reading skills like fluency, context clues, and inferential thinking.  After getting tired of scrambling for short and appropriate texts, last year I made some task cards with short text selections that were PERFECT for these 5-6 minute daily meetings.  It kept ME organized (no scrambling for resources), they were high interest for my students, they didn't interrupt their regular reading, I could get through 5-6 students daily, AND I saw the carry over into their regular reading. 

I was sold!

I started with a few groups early this year but in recent weeks, a few more students have "graduated" from their more intense interventions with a specialist and now are in my room daily with no support. I wanted to make sure they weren't left totally on their own during reader's workshop right away, so I wanted to meet with them daily to do some fluency and inferring work--at a more fourth grade level.  
I love this set of cards because there are so many teaching points on each one--and they are only a few sentences long!  We can work on our fluency--because the cards are designed to have a variety of "clues" that impact fluency--dialogue, bold words, words in all capitals, as well as a variety of punctuation hints (commas in a series, and so on).  There are so many talking points with students--and they can read and reread these short cards really quickly to practice each new concept.

In addition to the fluency work, the cards are written in such a way that students need to imagine the situation--and talk about what might have happened before and what might happen after.  This ability to infer enough to place a situation--as well as to infer about character feelings and actions is so critical as students move into more complicated texts.  After working with these cards, it's great to dig into their independent reading books and then find similar situations where we can ask the students to make inferences about characters, settings, and events.

To keep my life easy, I simply keep a recording sheet for each student--and in that short 5-6 minutes, we usually tackle two cards and I jot my notes--words they might have missed, teaching points they struggled with, or other notes I want to remember.  It keeps it all in one place and helps me know what cards we have done and how they are progressing.
So...consider seeking out some really short texts to try some of these strategies--reading for fluency for "big kids"--looking for those trickier punctuation and comprehension clues as well as considering different inferring skills.  Whether you pull small selections out of your read aloud, use poems, write them yourself, or want to try these cards--these little frequent "mini interventions" have been REALLY effective for my students.  Give it a try!
Want to read another post about a "context clues" intervention group I did earlier this year?  Just click here to check it out!

Like I said in this older post, ideally, these students would get endless one-on-one attention, but the reality is that there is only one of me.  These students are also the same ones who struggle with their independent reading--so not much reading gets accomplished.  Pairing their 30 minutes of independent reading with this assortment of 5-10 minute mini-interventions from me is a nice blend of reading experiences.  Students are learning to read--and they are feeling like they are developing into "real" readers.

Here are a few of the task card sets I have used with success in my class.  I'm open to suggestions for my next set! 

Interested in looking at those Branches books?  Here are a few--but there are lots more!

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One thing I know to be true...

Most struggling students do not do their best learning during large group instruction.  Sometimes, even small group instruction isn't enough.  Some students just need coaching--pure and simple.  

Of course, we can't do one on one instruction for 25 students every day.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out.  But we can work to get better and grabbing these precious moments with students whenever we can.  Knowing how to "spend" your intervention minutes is an integral part of what we do.

One way I make sure to touch base with students who need it is to use entrance slips OFTEN.  I use entrance slips several times per week to do any of the following:

1.  See how students are doing on a topic we are working on

2.  See how students have retained a topic we did days/weeks/months ago

3.  See how much students already know about a topic we are about to cover.

Sometimes these slips are purely computation based like those shown above.  We are currently working on partial quotients division, so nearly every day I do an entrance slip to see how my students are doing.  Sometimes the slips are more open ended or problem-based.  It all depends on what information I am trying to collect.

What is most important to me is the next step...I quickly sort their slips and "see what I can see".  I do this AS the students are turning them in whenever possible because I want to be ready to address misconceptions in any spare time I have.  These slips aren't meant to be taken as a "grade" (although often I record them because I can't remember ANYTHING these days), but are meant to guide my instruction.  After all, what "grade" do you give a child who gets one out of three division problems wrong?  What if it was a simple fact error?  What if they got all three wrong and it was simply because they didn't include the remainder?

So what I do is simple...after sorting the slips into groups based on levels of  success, I have one of three options:

1.  Do I really need to reteach the entire class?

2.  Do I have a group that has similar needs--not necessarily the same number wrong--but are making the same mistake(s)?

3.  Do I have some individual needs that are best met in a one-on-one conference?

By asking these three questions, you can make decisions on the fly as to how to spend your precious minutes!  Yesterday I did the entrance slip pictured below.  We are on about day 4 of "partial quotients" and we've been doing a LOT of collaborative work.  It was time to start honing in on who was getting it and who was not.  Today, learned that . . .

1.  I did NOT need to back up and reteach the entire class.

2.  I did NOT have a small group that needed reteaching.

3.  I DID have 5 students I wanted to confer with about some misconceptions or "technique" issues they were having.  One student was really not understanding the method at all--so I knew we needed to back way up and get some manipulatives to model the process.  Two students needed me to talk with them about how they were organizing their work because their lack of organization was leading to precision errors.  One student needed me to help them better understand remainders.  Finally, one student needed to find his own mistakes...he is a "rusher" who knows EXACTLY what to do--but tends to rush and make silly mistakes.  He was easily able to find his mistakes.

So my "food for thought" for the weekend is--how often are you using formative assessment?  What are you doing with the information?  If you are interested in some ready-made formative assessments, I have many in my store.  The slips shown above are found HERE

I also have them for area and perimeter and addition and subtraction with more on the way!

As you know if you have followed me for any length of time, I love to have my students work collaboratively on "challenging" tasks...and because it is testing season in my room, I like to give my students as much interaction with each other in our non-testing hours as possible!

You may have seen (or even tried) some of my "Thinker Task" challenges...so they involved a real-life scenario where students work alone or collaboratively to find a solution, organize their work, explain their thinking...blah blah blah.

I was getting ready to introduce one of them to my class when I accidentally turned on my document camera with my stack of  papers under it.

My students went nuts.  

"Do we get to plan a menu?"
"How many movies can they see?"
"How much money can we spend?"

(Remember, they haven't seen the scenario yet!)

A little light bulb went on in my very tired brain, so I told them that THEY had to write the questions!   They seemed less than impressed with this idea...but I sent them to get their notebooks and asked them to try writing some questions using this real world data.  Some did a decent jobs...others struggled with how to get started.   I love the idea of this "backward thinking"--making THEM think of the math.  I've done it quite a bit in the past...check out THIS POST and THIS POST for some more examples.  This is TOTALLY something easy you can do any time you see numbers in the real world!

After a few minutes, I brought them back up to the front and we studied our "Math by the Numbers" sheet a little more closely.  We talked about the different types of numbers found on the page.  We talked about the types of QUESTIONS we could ask ("how many more..." problems, multiplication problems, comparing problems, elapsed time problems) and I heard a lot more "ohhhhhh" murmurs.  So many had started with rather simplistic questions like:

"How much would 2 small pizzas cost?"

and started coming up with questions like:

"If I had to be my friend's house by 6 pm and it is now noon, which movies do I have time to see?" and other more outside the box ways to look at this information.  I saw questions that had more than one answer begin to appear like, "What are all the different ways I could spend $20 at the restaurant?" and then I knew we were ready to tackle the ACTUAL task that I had created!  Students did ask if they could keep writing their own questions and solving them (ummmm...you want to do extra math?  SURE!)

Getting better!

So...the next day I gave the students the actual scenario to work on and asked them to work in teams of 2 or 3 to dig in and start TALKING about what some of the possible ways to tackle it would be.  Because we had already studied the data sheet, they had some great background and this process went quite smoothly.  I didn't want them to start just solving the problem without thought--so I made them take some time to think.  The scenario asks them to make a bunch of decision--and eventually come up with both a budget AND a time plan for the time frame of the sleepover.  Students had to decide if the brother and sister and their friends would do everything together or separately--and how they would allocate their time and money.  OH the discussions and negotiations I heard!  After some planning, they got to work in their notebooks.
...and although they aren't finished with the first part (this will go on for the next week or so for my fast finishers), they are well on their way to planning a superb sleepover!
I dare you to give it a try--snap a photo at the grocery store or bring in ads from the newspaper--ask students to think backwards and write their OWN problem and see how it deepens their understanding!  In a nutshell...make your STUDENTS work hard than you do!

The resource used in this post is listed here, as is the bundle that includes 7 of these tasks.

This bundle currently has SEVEN Thinker Tasks to use!

One thing that always bothered me with many math textbooks and curriculum maps was the idea that math instruction is best done in "blocks"--3 weeks of geometry.  2 weeks of addition.  4 weeks of fractions.  You know as well as I do that students need far more repetitions of math concepts that this arrangement allows.  That being said--I have no problem with intense units on different math concepts.  Heck, my fraction unit is pretty involved and intense!

That being said, I make sure I deliberately plan to keep weaving other concepts into my instruction no matter how involved we are with our current units.  The simple truth is, if we don't continue to review and reinforce and reteach skills, our students simply don't solidify those synapses to make that learning permanent.  So...how can we work this into an already packed math class?

I have a few ideas for you!

1.  Math warm ups

Whether you throw a problem under a document camera or print problems off for students to glue into their math notebooks, warming up with problems from previous units is a great way to keep them fresh.  Not only does it help students understand that topics aren't learned and forgotten (think weekly spelling lists!), but it can really help us as teachers see who is continuing to struggle.  In fact, I often will throw an "entrance slip" in as a warm up--and it's rarely on the content we are currently studying (unless I am trying to judge how instruction is going) but is often revisiting a skill from a previous unit to see if it "stuck"--and who might need more review.

2.  Practice activities during math workshop

If you teach in a "math workshop" or guided math format, students' independent work time is a great way to spiral past instruction.  Whether you have some review sheets that you didn't get to, workbook pages you skipped for whatever reason, games or other activities related to past units, or other practice activities--providing students with opportunities to use those skills on a regular basis is so important.  I often have students work in partners to do this kind of work to serve as a sort of  "checks and balances"...they can refresh each other's memory along the way.  I love to use resources like THIS and THIS that are a little more open ended so all students have the chance to practice skills at a "just right" level.

3.  Intervention groups

As I move from topic to topic, I keep a list of students who need continued work.  I don't know about you, but I feel there is a constant battle in my mind of "Should I move on because MOST students get it?" or "Do I need to spend another few days on this concept?"  Know what I mean?  The best solution I have found is to be constantly on top of which students are the "getters" and which are the "needers"--and I move on with the class and focus the "needers" in small group work.  After all, if they aren't getting it with whole class instruction, another few days of it probably won't help either--they need more targeted help.  I use formative assessment resources for this constantly so I always know where my students stand.  Here is an example of how I keep track of this...
This is from my Area/Perimeter Formative Assessment Toolbox...
4.  Games!

If you have followed me at all you know that I am a firm believer in using games as a way to review skills.  I have games in circulation at all times that help reinforce a variety of skills...and I work very hard to help students recognize the different value of playing games and how to choose the best games to build fluency and accuracy. Check out THIS POST for more details!

So...as I was doing my planning over the last month or so and wanted to do some really focused review work.  State testing was coming up and I wanted to at least give a cursory glance to a few topics we hadn't studied in a while.  As I started creating some task cards to use during math workshop, an idea came to me.   What if I created cards that addressed ALL the fourth grade standards?  What if the first set was at a more basic level (like to help transition from 3rd grade), and each set got progressively  more rigorous?  I could use them all year to build in this spiral review--and it would be a TOTALLY flexible resource that I could use for any of the above purposes--I could use them under the projector (or photocopy some) to use as warm ups.  I could use them in stations.  I could use them with partners.  I started working on them--and this resource was born!  Right now I have the first three sets made...and if it looks like they will be helpful for others, I will keep going!

So often task cards are based on skill--which is GREAT if you are in the middle of an in-depth unit...but I wanted MIXED cards to deal with everything from place value to fractions to computation to geometry.
 I also didn't just want "fill in the blank" work...I wanted students to have to explain their thinking at times...write equations at time...find rules...critique reasoning...look for patterns...I needed cards that addressed the math standards at a deeper level.
 I also wanted to make sure that I had plenty of rigor--but also a way to push those students who could handle it, even on the easier first sets.
And I wanted a chance for students to practice some of those all-important standards for mathematical practice...explaining thinking, using proper labels, working precisely, and so on.  I wanted to be able to print them in color and black and white (this set is printed in black and white on orange cardstock).  Each color set has a different background color to keep them organized.

So...these have been working great for my class and hope you find them an easy way to keep the spiral going in YOUR room.  Whether you try them for warm ups, math stations, or with intervention students, I am just happy to have them all ready to use!  I'd love to know what you think...and your thoughts about proceeding with the next three sets!  Interested in checking them out?  Just click below to see them!  I have the first three sets finished and figured I'd bundle three at a time for those interested in digging in!

Also...congratulations to Holly M and Heidi S for winning the two $25 Teachers Pay Teachers gift certificates in my giveaway!  Check your mailboxes, ladies!