Guided Math in Action: Building Proficiency with Small-Group Instruction

Guided Math in Action: Building Each Student’s Mathematical Proficiency with Small-Group Instruction
By Nicki Newton
(Eye on Education/Routledge,  2013 – Learn more)

valencic math 120Reviewed by Alex T. Valencic

For years, teachers have known that guided reading in small-group settings is the best way to help students improve their literacy skills. Dr. Nicki Newton began her career as a literacy and social studies specialist and then began exploring ways to better engage students in building their math proficiency.

In her new book, Guided Math in Action: Building Each Student’s Mathematical Proficiency with Small-Group Instruction, Newton provides an outline of what it means to be mathematically proficient, how to divide students into guided math groups, and tips and strategies for keeping the rest of the classroom engaged in meaningful mathematical tasks while the teacher is working with groups.

The Why Behind the How-To

9781596672352Newton defines mathematical proficiency as having conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, strategic competence, adaptive reasoning, and mathematical confidence. She asserts that guided math groups allow teachers to “meet the students where they are” and tap into their multiple intelligences.

Each chapter and section of the book brings the topics back to mathematical proficiency. Additionally, there are three to five reflection questions posed at the end of each chapter to help teachers think of ways to apply the suggestions made.

Step-by-step to Math Workshop

After introducing the conceptual framework for guided math and mathematical proficiency, Newton provides a step-by-step guide to setting up a Math Workshop, patterned after Writers’ Workshop and Readers’ Workshop.

She suggests that the Math Workshop have the following schedule, regardless of grade level: calendar or other repeatable activities (10 minutes), problem of the day (10 minutes), whole-class mini-lesson (10 minutes), math centers/guided math groups (three 15-minute rotations), strategy practice (10 minutes), and journal writing (10 minutes).

The goal is for students to spend the largest portion of their workshop time in either a guided setting or engaged in independent activities.

Tips for Helping Groups Work

When it comes to teaching with small groups, whether in math, reading or writing, the ever-present question for every teacher is, quite simply, “What do the other students do when I am working with a small group?” Newton suggests that, as with everything done in the classroom, the key is to have meaningful activities that students will want to do. This may require some extra preparation, but she asserts that the pay-off is worth it!

Students should also be given ample opportunities to practice working independently or with partners while the teacher observes and corrects as needed. After students have established strong work habits, the teacher should slowly introduce small-group instruction by meeting with just one group at a time. As students build up their math stamina, they will be better prepared to work independently for the majority of the Math Workshop time.

With a collection of reproducible blackline masters at the back, access to electronic documents online, and a host of examples, samples, and real-world connections, Guided Math in Action provides a strong foundation for any teacher interested in using the workshop model in his or her math instruction. Nicki Newton writes in an easy, engaging manner that invites teachers to take what she has tried and apply it in whatever manner works best for the teacher.

Alex T. Valencic is a fourth grade teacher in Urbana, Illinois. He has taught professionally for five years. When not teaching. Mr. Valencic can be found reading, riding his bicycle, and spending time with his family. While he used to have a full head of thick, curly hair, he shaved it all off after this school community logged over 1,000,000 minutes of reading! You can learn more about his adventures in teaching fourth grade by visiting his blog at or following him on Twitter @alextvalencic.


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