Classroom Strategies, Materials Adaptation

Top Five Ways to Make the Most of Your Math Materials

If you’re not satisfied with the quality and CCSS-alignment of your existing math materials, here are five tips to improve them.

If you’re like most teachers, you don’t get to choose the textbook you use with your students, but that doesn’t mean youneed to be restricted to what the textbook says. Here are five tips to adapt your math materials to better serve your students:

1. Remove off-grade-level content to create more focused instruction– You may find that your existing math materials do not reflect the focused nature of the Common Core State Standards. Many state standards (and thus many publisher-produced math textbooks) required teachers to attempt to teach a multitude of topics at each grade level prior to the Common Core. This method does not allow students time to develop deep mastery and understanding of foundational math skills.

Shape of MathThis graphic shows how previous state standards (and materials aligned to those old standards) directed teachers to address a multitude of topics each year, often introducing a topic in an early grade and then repeating it each year through 8th grade. By contrast, countries that are consistently among the top math performers have focused math standards that follow a natural progression of skill acquisition.

You can perform a quick analysis of the textbook you’re using and compare it to the standards for the grade(s) you teach. If there are concepts that are introduced too early – such as probability before grade 7, or transformations on the coordinate plane before grade 8 – you should remove those from your planned lessons and reallocate that lesson time to deepening understanding of key foundational skills associated with each grade band, such as developing a deep understanding of operations in grades K-5.

 2. Reallocate lesson time to better reflect Major, Supporting, and Additional Cluster content – All math concepts are not created equal. You can improve the focus of your materials by using the Focus Documents to identify which lessons reflect concepts associated with Major, Supporting, or Additional cluster content. A skill or concept that falls into the Supporting or Additional cluster categories should not receive equal lesson time. For example, in grades K-2, multiple chapters on geometry concepts are not necessary, nor is a full chapter on patterns in kindergarten. You can condense multiple chapters or work the Supporting content into other lessons; using it to bolster instruction on the Major Work of the Grade.

3. Identify opportunities for class discussion – Every textbook has discussion-worthy math questions and problems, but they aren’t always highlighted for educators, or the questions that are highlighted may not be the best ones. Teachers should try to elevate questions that focus on mathematical reasoning, spending more time on these questions and asking students to talk through their reasoning and solution methods.

4. Balance the three aspects of RigorWhile it is not necessary to cover all aspects of Rigor in every lesson, it is important for your textbook, as a whole, to have a balance of all three elements of Rigor: conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and application. You can supplement your textbook with OER resources to help create more balanced instruction. For example, if you find that your textbook is overly focused on procedures, with row after row of practice equations, you can integrate math tasks from Illustrative Mathematics to build conceptual understanding and practice application. If your textbook is lacking fluency tasks, grab some fun practice exercises from Pinterest or Teachers Pay Teachers.

5. Check other grades in your textbook series for missing content – Compare the lessons in your textbook to the expectations in the Standards. If topics are missing, look for the topic in other books in the same series. Perhaps the teacher in the grades above or below you has the topic in their textbook and you can photocopy it to use with your students. For instance, finding equivalent fractions is covered in the Common Core State Standards in grade 4 but you may find the material is covered in either the grade 3 or 5  textbooks of some series.

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About the Author: Student Achievement Partners is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving student achievement through evidence-based action. Founded by some of the lead writers of the Common Core State Standards, the organization works closely with educators and other partners in the education field ensure the promise of the Common Core is realized in classrooms across the country.