It seems to me that math support positions have been becoming more common in schools across the country. In the last few weeks, I have received several emails and Facebook messages from folks who have applied or are thinking about applying for various elementary math positions. Many people are looking for advice and ideas and others are really asking what to expect. I know expectations for these types of jobs vary widely but I want to share what I have learned over the last 10 years. Over the next few days, I will be describing some of the roles that I have played as a "math specialist" and my best advice for doing a great job in each role.
Providing Additional Instruction
This is the backbone of what your role will be as a math interventionist. The majority of your time will be spent working with small groups of students who require additional instruction to meet standards. There are many math intervention programs available commercially which your school may or may not use. My school does not have a commercial program and I create what I use with my students. I tend to keep much of my interventions game based, especially with primary students and get a lot of mileage out of my place value card decks. With my older students I do a lot of hands on practice with manipulatives and concrete models and linking those to the representational and abstract simultaneously. When I first began this job my interventions looked very different and I sometimes struggled to figure out what I needed to do and what tools I needed. If you are new to being a math interventionist and do not have a commercially available program, see if you can spend some time talking with another math interventionist about what they use with their students and how they know it is successful. It can be a lot of work to start from scratch. I do like being in charge of making my own intervention materials now that I have had a lot of experience, I find that I can really customize my interventions to individual students in a way that would not be possible with a commercially available program.
Know Your Assessments
Students are referred to me based on assessments, both observational and formal. Some of it is formative assessment and others are local assessments that we use as screening tools or provide intervention for follow up. Students who are currently on my case load get assessed several times a year. They usually get an assessment when school starts, in January and in May. They might also get one before a parent conference or report card if I am looking for more information. For K-2 kids, I use a local assessment that is an individual interview. It is great to get this level of detail on my intervention students. For older students, I have recently started using the Math Reasoning Inventory which is part written and part interview. Marilyn Burns was one of the authors so like all of her stuff, it is awesome ! You can check it out here.
You have all those assessments, now how are you going to track and share data? If you use the Math Reasoning Inventory, much of this is done for you. If you use local assessments or a combination of things you might have to invent your own data tracking system. I use Excel to track data in a variety of ways. If you do not know how to use Excel I highly recommend you learn! I learned how to use it to my full advantage 6 years ago while I was taking a statistics class. Understanding how data can work for you and what tools are available to you can really help. Knowing the basics of statistics and how to use a spreadsheet program can be really helpful for a math interventionist.
Communicating with ParentsSo now you have identified students in need of intervention. The next step is to let parents know and introduce yourself to families. I work in a very small school and after 10 years I know most of the families. I find a quick phone call to let a parent know when I am doing intervention with their kid to work well for me. This mostly is due to the fact that I already know the family. If I need to do intervention with a kid whose family I do not know, I often have the classroom teacher get in touch with the family and let them know I will be working with their child. Then I make contact by phone or in person and start developing that relationship with the family. For students whose families already know me or for students who are on my case load the most frequently, I find that email is a great way to communicate updates and quick shares about what we have been working on. I try to be in email contact with parents at least twice per month with a quick update. This takes a lot less time than it may seem and really helps parents feel connected. I also meet with families at parent conference time. I mostly set it up so the parents can see myself and the classroom teacher in the same conference. This makes for less meeting for the parent and keeps everyone on the same page.
Each job is going to be different but these are some of the things I have experienced as a math interventionist. I will be detailing other roles that I have taken on as a math specialist this week so check back or make sure you are following me on Facebook!
If you have any tips or experiences
about being a math interventionist to share please let us know in the comments! Any questions I can answer for you would be great as well!
Want to know what being a math coach is like? Head over to part 2 of this series!