Four Reasons Why GUIDED is the BEST Way to Teach Math

Four Reasons Why GUIDED is the BEST Way to Teach Math

After being an educator for over 20 years, I’ve learned a lot about what works and doesn’t work with students. I now know that I did a lot of things that probably weren’t in the best interest of my learners (like stand and deliver math instruction for 60–90 minutes *face palm*). Watching education evolve has been a learning experience. Trends come and go, but a trend I’ve been involved with for the past 8 years is Guided Math. After project managing several large implementations, I am convinced that it is THE BEST WAY to teach math. Here are 4 reasons why.


1. Today’s students have short attention spans.

A recent article shows that students’ attention spans “decline precipitously after 10–15 minutes.” I dare say for some lower elementary students, it’s even shorter. One of the 7 tenets of Guided Math is whole-group instruction. Guided Math shifts instruction away from a 60-minute lecture to a shorter, whole-group segment at either the beginning of the lesson, the end, or both. This caters to students’ short attention spans. The whole group mini-lesson captures attention but quickly transitions to the next activity, dissuading boredom and getting students moving and focusing on the next task.


Guided Math2. Teachers focus on individual student needs rather than teaching the same thing in the same way to the whole class.

The pertinent instruction takes place at the teacher table and is carefully tailored to meet students at their level. Prior to the lesson, students are placed into homogeneous groups and during workstation time, the teacher requests that students come to the table. Here, the teacher has carefully planned instruction based on targeted areas for growth or acceleration. In addition, instruction is differentiated based on student learning styles. When executed correctly, the teacher table is a valuable tool that allows for individualized instruction while providing immediate feedback, which helps with planning next steps for students.


3. Students are allowed to take ownership for their learning.

The remaining students are now charged with taking complete ownership for their learning.  This is why it is crucial to guide students through the first 15 days of instruction to ensure students fully understand the learning and behavioral expectations of a Guided Math classroom. Click here for a sample guide for the first 5 days of instruction. An ideal guided environment will have 3-4 workstation rotations while a teacher is at the table. Ideally, these would include a (math) fluency/games, vocabulary, writing, and technology station. Students are heterogeneously grouped in workstations to assist each other when needed. Upon completion of a workstation activity, students are required to complete an exit ticket to prove their learning while away from the teacher. Lastly, the teacher follows up with appropriate, meaningful activities based on the assessments.


4. Learning moves from passive to active participation.

group mathEnter any Guided Math classroom and you might do a double take. For those unfamiliar with the framework, it may resemble chaos. But be not dismayed. It is controlled chaos. Guided Math classrooms are far from astute and quiet. They are busy and oftentimes noisy. And thus lies the beauty of the framework. 

Students aren’t sitting and getting.  They are actively creating, inspecting, and synthesizing mathematical information.  They are discussing potential outcomes to math problems. They are asking peers for help. Conversations are taking place so the teacher precisely understands the mathematical abilities of each student. Guided Math classrooms are fun, engaging, and structured for 21st century learners.

Today’s learning environment has changed since I began teaching. The ways that students engage in the learning process is distinctive for this period in history. It’s crucial we meet them where they are and the way they learn best. I’ve worked with campuses that have implemented Guided Math and have seen their achievement soar. This framework is truly THE BEST WAY to deliver focused, differentiated instruction for today’s learners. 


Author bio

Sara McDaniel M. Ed.

Sara McDaniel M. Ed., Senior Educational Consultant

Sara McDaniel M. Ed., currently an award-winning senior educational consultant with Teacher Created Materials, is a seasoned elementary classroom teacher and has served as both a building- and district-level school administrator. Serving in schools and districts in both Louisiana and Arkansas, Sara’s students thrived in her positive, upbeat learning environment. Connect with Sara on Twitter @mcdanielsara.