Because of that, in my planning this week I am planning ahead to be ready to free myself up to pull small groups as much as possible. I know that some students already know the standard algorithm--and others are still not really even confident with arrays. This is going to take some navigating and planning! If you are interested in any of the resources pictured in this post, simply click the image to learn more about it.

Here are a few of my "rules to live by" when faced with this type of situation. After all, if I'm going to be working with a small group--I want to do way more than just keep the other students "busy". Right?

1. Know where your students are and where they need to be. Make sure you are clear on your content--and have a plan for assessing students formally and informally throughout your teaching so you can really target your instruction to exactly what they need. I'm not a huge fan of pretesting (I think it's tough to make decisions about concepts based on one or two problems) but I am a HUGE fan of formative assessment along the way. If a student can demonstrate mastery, they may need SOME work to build fluency--but their time is better spent doing other things. I use my formative assessment resources all the time to take quick snapshots of progress.

2. So what if they need that "something else"? I love to immerse my students in challenging, open-ended tasks. For this unit, I am presenting my Thinker Task Valentine Challenge to the class as one of these options. Notice that I said TO THE CLASS. I make sure ALL students have access to these quality problems. Some students may not get as far into the challenge as others--but we so often "dumb down" our instruction for our struggling students and don't give them access to rigorous and meaningful tasks. I might encourage them to use a calculator...to work in teams...or to use the easier version (I love that these have 2 levels for just this reason!). Again--if I am pulling small groups, there will be time for students to do other work--and this is a great way for students to ALL have a common task.

3. Building fluency is another great thing to do when not in teacher-led groups. Playing games can be a great thing--as long as the students are working on games that are "just right" for them. If students are already fluent with facts, their games should involve some strategy. If they AREN'T fluent, make sure they actually are ready for the skill on the test. There is nothing worse than asking a child to play a game to build fluency and for them to not have the strategies to do it--instead, they spend time practicing wrong! I certainly don't want students who don't know their multiplication facts to practice them incorrectly because I need them to be independent. I'll have to find another skill for them to do independently. For the next two weeks, I am making these multiplication fact fluency games available--each at two levels of challenge. They aren't right for ALL of my students, but they are for MOST.

4. Another great thing for students to work on when they aren't with you is word problems. Whether you have them try them alone or work in partners--problem solving is NEVER a bad use of time! Try to find problems that will be engaging (these all have a February or Valentine's Day theme) and are at a variety of levels. I keep mine cut apart and in a pocket chart on my wall and try to put the easier ones toward the top. Many of these also have an "extra" component so students can tackle that piece if it is a good fit for them. As I transition between groups, I'll do some laps around the classroom checking student choices and doing some coaching along the way--but they really do a nice job of coaching each other!

5. One more option is to provide the class with a meaningful "warm up" problem or set of problems. By starting off a class like this, you can make sure students understand the task and that they can be productive while you work to pull other groups. So...as you are planning for instruction you know might be difficult where you might need to do some focused attention, think about what kind of MEANINGFUL activities you can provide for your students. I can almost guarantee--if you give them engaging things to do, the management concerns all but disappear and you are free to work your magic!

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