Some schools around the United States are using small groups to teach math. Second-graders at Field Elementary School are working on math–including some small groups sitting on a floor in a hallway.

Using Small Groups to Teach MathThey are all studying number groupings and identifying which numbers are in ones, tens and hundreds places.

It was their daily WIN time, which stands for “What I Need,” at the school, 120 Sacred Heart Lane, and they were working in different ways — including playing a bingo game — depending on their level of understanding.

Teacher Trisha Withey asked one set of students, “How many ‘tens’ have you got, and what’s the value?”

Principal Deb Rivera attributes a dramatic leap in the school’s state test scores this year to this method of small-group learning — combined with dividing teachers up into small Professional Learning Communities to consult and interact with one another during weekly meetings.

Field’s rise in scores was the biggest in the Jefferson County Public Schools system — from the 13th to 78th percentile — and one of the biggest in the state.

“That’s pretty remarkable,” said Ben Jackey, a JCPS spokesman.

The small-group learning system requires extra help — from substitute teachers, extra volunteers, including retired teachers, and student teachers from area colleges, such as Indiana University Southeast.

“Each grade level gets flooded with adult support” for about 50 minutes each day, Rivera said. The school has about 428 students, and they all participate in WIN groups.

In the “fluid” groups, as students improve, they can move on to a group that’s learning at a higher level, “based on exactly what they need,” Rivera said. But everybody in each group “needs the same thing,” she said.

Teacher Lisa Downs said, “It allows you to focus on what the kids need help with.”Alexis Fifis, who teaches special education students at Field, said “one of the greatest things about WIN groups” is that her students are mixed in with all the other students.

“My kids are always included. They can all be together, working with kids who struggle in some areas or being highly successful.”

All JCPS schools have Professional Learning Communities, but Field is one of 13 schools receiving free assistance from Richard and Rebecca DuFour, national experts in the learning communities field, Jackey said.

The DuFours are affiliated with Solution Tree, a professional educational development company based in Bloomington, Ind. Mona Toncheff, a math specialist based in Arizona who is a company representative, was at Field recently for a visit and sat down with kindergarten teachers to discuss their progress.

Teachers at Field have “stepped out of their comfort zone and tried new strategies,” she said, adding that the emphasis now is on “collaboration.” Using small groups to teach math is really working for this school.

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Using Small Groups to Teach Math


Students may be at a lower level in one subject and a high level in another, which helps boost confidence. “Everybody’s good at something,” Rivera said.