Friday, January 14, 2011

The Marriage of Saxon and Guided Math

As you  may have guessed from the title, we use Saxon Math in our district. For anyone not familiar with this series, it is basically a spiral math program. Every day there is a different lesson and the problem set that students work has many different types of problems, providing repeated practice during the school year. For example, Monday's lesson might be long division, Tuesday-stories about a fraction of a group, Wednesday-subtraction across zeros, etc. (You get the picture). Students aren't expected to master each day's content on that day, but rather continue practicing the skills in subsequent lesson sets. I won't go into the pros and cons of the program in this article, but I will say that trying to "marry" this program with my idea of guided math has been a bit of a struggle.

So, just what is Guided Math, anyway? Well, my idea of guided math is similar to a guided reading lesson--start with a short mini-lesson on the skill of the day, move to independent/small group work, wrap up at the end of the lesson with whole group share time. I really believe in this approach because students are given opportunities for instruction in whole and small group, on their levels, and in short, focused lessons. It also provides the time for independent practice that is so vital. 

With Saxon, the minilesson is the easy part---whatever the lesson is for the day is the minilesson. Although, I must admit it can be difficult to keep the lesson "mini" sometimes.  But for me, the real struggle involved two main issues: 

1. How do I pull math groups, and what do I teach in those groups?
2. What are the other kids doing while I work with small groups (besides their daily lesson set).

Here are some of the answers I've come up with. As with anything else, they're still a work in progress and will likely change as I learn and grow.

How do I pull math groups, and what do I teach in those groups?
  • My ideal situation: Do an item analysis from students' math tests and pull skill groups based on which students demonstrated a need for that skill. Groups would be flexible, based on reteaching a particular skill, and focused on one outcome.
  • My actual situation: Because the lesson sets are so long and it takes my students sssooooo long to complete them, I pull groups (high-middle-low), and we work through as much of the lesson set as possible together. *I'd rather do groups the other way, but I just can't because my students need a great deal of help on the actual problems on each day's set.
What are the other kids doing while I work with small groups?
  • This is the fun part. I've taken what I know about Daily 5 Reading and applied it to Math, offering students choices each day: Games on Computer, All by Myself (lesson set and eventually math journal), Math games (with partners), Expanding facts (facts practice). 
  • We have 3 choice rounds. Every student must choose All by Myself once (but can choose it more than once if desired). Our rounds go for about 15 minutes. The choices weren't hard to set up: I already had several different partner games, computer games, and fact practice items such as wrap-ups and hotdots. 
"How long does all of this take?" you may be asking yourself. Honestly, it takes quite a while to do well. Usually we spend between 70 to 90 minutes on math. It is well worth it, however, as my students LOVE doing math this way. Almost daily they excitedly ask "Do we get to do math groups today?" That question is enough of a reason in my eyes to keep pushing forward with this math marriage of sorts. 


  1. I spent yesterday putting together a plan for a math workshop in my 4th grade. Thanks for your ideas! I am going to try 3 rounds (I only have 16 students) and I will have a computer schedule since we only have 2 in the classroom. The rounds will be me, On My Own, and Math Menu. I am giving them a bingo type board with their math menu broad choices such as strategy games, math games, math puzzles, and computer games. They need to write what they did within that category and then X it out. I have made a reflection space on the menu which they will use with my guidance at the end of the week. I'll have different questions for them to reflect on. I am very excited to get away from too much whole class instruction in math!

  2. I really like the idea of the bingo cards and the reflective piece. I love how we teachers can take the best of ideas and make them fit the needs of the students in our classroom.

  3. Farrah, do you have any follow up on this topic? I am going to be teaching in a new school and they use Saxon. I'd like to do guided math groups and have been reading Debbie Diller's "Math Work Stations" but I'm curious as to your experiences. Thanks!



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