In my first year of teaching, I was hired as a special education teacher at an alternative high school on the south side of Chicago. I had a great experience there and truly loved working with high school students. I had never considered myself to be “a math person,” but I ended up enjoying teaching math much more than I expected. What I did not expect was that I would be teaching resource classes for high school seniors who were performing at around a 4th-grade level in math. In this situation, math interventions became my new best friend.
Interventions are key when teaching students who are not performing at grade level. Essentially, interventions are strategies that teach a new skill, build fluency in a skill, or encourage a child to apply an existing skill to new situations or settings. Interventions are chosen specifically for an individual student or a small group of students based on their particular academic needs.
Some schools may offer classes specifically for intensive interventions, while some may have a staff member who is hired specifically to implement these interventions. In many cases, special education or general education teachers are tasked with implementing math interventions in the classroom or during intervention blocks. Schools also often face the dilemma of finding available staff who are trained to implement interventions. For this reason, many schools turn to online and computer-based programs to support struggling students. Some great (free!) computer-based mathematical intervention options include Khan Academy and Freckle. These can be highly effective, but remember that many students may still require additional instruction to reinforce what they are learning and practicing online.
We all know how easy it is to Google teaching strategies or to purchase a teacher-created activity, but how do you know that the intervention has evidence of success? Using a strategy with little or no evidence base can waste valuable classroom time while teachers wait to see if the intervention will succeed over time. To verify if an intervention is research-based, teachers can search for ESSA (the Every Student Succeeds Act) curated interventions. If you are using the Branching Minds support library to select an intervention, you can check the level of evidence and read a summary of the research findings on the support card. Additionally, you can filter the options in our library to ensure you see intervention options with a strong research base.
Progress monitoring can also be a big challenge for many educators. Progress monitoring is used to determine how effective an intervention is for your students. The data gathered from progress monitoring helps make decisions like whether the duration or frequency of the intervention needs to be increased, whether the intervention is working or should be swapped for a different intervention method, and if the student has met their goals and the intervention can be discontinued. Students receiving Tier 2 support should be assessed weekly or every other week, while students receiving Tier 3 support should be assessed weekly. Branching Minds has put together a sample progress monitoring schedule for reference.
Some students may lack motivation in math class, especially students who already feel they are struggling or falling behind. This can be another serious challenge – it can feel pointless to set up and follow through with interventions for students who don’t seem to be putting in any effort. I was this student when I was in high school. I didn’t feel like a “math person,” it seemed like all of my peers were miles ahead of me in math class, and I started to resist any efforts to help me. It felt hopeless. But there were a few things my teachers did to motivate me, and a few more strategies I’ve learned about in my time in education.
For best results with math intervention, keep the individual student in mind and tie in their interests and strengths as much as possible. Ensure that the intervention is research-based, implement it with fidelity, and follow up with progress monitoring. And if you’re working with an especially closed-off or challenging student, don’t give up on a specific intervention too quickly! Stick with it until the data shows you it’s time to try something else. Consistency is vital and is often the secret to success.
👉 Download The MTSS Intervention Flowchart Guide
Other intervention resources you may find helpful:
Study.com. (2012). Academic Intervention: Definition, Plan & Strategies. Retrieved from https://study.com/academy/lesson/academic-intervention-definition-plan-strategies.html
Branching Minds. (n.d.). The Guide to Solving the Top Four MTSS Challenges. Retrieved from https://www.branchingminds.com/mtss-challenges-guide
Intervention Central. (n.d.). Applied Math Problems: Using Question-Answer Relationships (QARs) to Interpret Math Graphics. Retrieved from https://www.interventioncentral.org/academic-interventions/math/math-problem-solving
Intervention Central. (2020). Response to Intervention | Math | Math Problem Solving: Combining Cognitive-Metacognitive Strategies. Retrieved from https://www.interventioncentral.org/academic-interventions/math/math-problem-solving-combining-cognitive-metacognitive-strategies
Intervention Central. (n.d.). Self-Monitoring: Customized Math Self-Correction Checklists. Retrieved from https://www.interventioncentral.org/academic-interventions/math/self-monitoring-customized-math-self-correction-checklists
Spruell, S. (n.d.). How to Develop a List of MTSS Interventions for the 2022-2023 School Year. Retrieved from https://www.branchingminds.com/blog/how-to-develop-a-list-of-interventions-mtss
The Decision Lab. (n.d.). Growth Mindset. Retrieved from https://thedecisionlab.com/reference-guide/neuroscience/growth-mindset
Wilcox, L. (2018, June 4). Top 5 Strategies for Motivating Students. NBPTS. Retrieved from https://www.nbpts.org/blog/top-5-strategies-for-motivating-students/
Rachel Butler is the Content Specialist for Branching Minds. Rachel is a former Chicago Public Schools middle school special education teacher and case manager. She has experience with school leadership, intervention implementation, and working with a team of stakeholders to ensure each student receives the support they need. Rachel is passionate about social-emotional learning, school-based behavioral health, and providing all schools and students with access to high-quality resources.