The Case for Individualization in Mathematics: Why It Matters and How Should We Do It?

Imagine a classroom full of students facing the board, all solving the same maths problem. The teacher asks a student to state the answer. All eyes in the classroom shift to look at the student. The student freezes like a deer in headlights and struggles to answer.

What’s going on? This student is probably one of the estimated 50% of students who struggle with maths anxiety.

Moving toward effective teaching frameworks can be a part of the solution for helping students overcome maths anxiety and succeed in maths.

Individualization is one of the key teaching strategies that can help improve attitudes about maths while also boosting performance. Let’s explore why and how you can incorporate individualisation into your classroom routines.


The Trouble with Whole Group Instruction

While there is a time and place for whole group instruction, this traditional teaching method comes with a lot of issues. One of the main issues is that this setting can easily produce a lot of maths anxiety. Students in any given classroom may have a wide range of mathematical abilities. When students notice differences between their abilities or the speed at which they can complete work, it can create anxiety.

As the Center for Educational Improvement explains, “A competitive classroom culture can also contribute to high math anxiety.” Whole group instruction time during which students are put on the spot can create competition. Plus, when students are working on the same problems, they may notice how long they are taking and feel pressure to work faster. Or, students with maths anxiety may be terrified of answering a question incorrectly.

Instead of asking for help or answering incorrectly, they keep their heads down, don’t participate, and even copy off of their peers to keep up. In other words, many students shut down during whole group lessons.

Not only that but skill gaps are rarely addressed in the whole group setting. There are too many students to keep track of, making it difficult for teachers to personally assist and meet the needs of students who are below grade level.

So, what should teachers do instead?


3 Benefits of Small Group Instruction

Small group instruction is a necessary and wonderful alternative to whole group instruction. How does it help? Here are three benefits:

1. More Individual Attention

During small group work, teachers can monitor students more closely. This can help teachers identify and close learning gaps, give one-on-one feedback, and challenge students who excel in maths.

2. An Accepting Community

During small group work, all students can become strong maths students. One important part of group work is that it can help create a positive math community. When working in smaller groups, students may feel more comfortable participating and voicing possible answers. It is also easier for teachers to create an environment of acceptance where there are all thinking is encouraged and there are no wrong answers.

3. Math Groups Can Be Fun!

Student attitudes about maths can be improved in small group settings where teachers can facilitate games, discussion, and use manipulatives. In the whole group setting, it can be difficult to organize games and use manipulatives in a way that everyone can participate at once. However, in small groups, this is more feasible and can result in real growth! One study showed that below-level kindergarteners were able to improve their maths outcomes significantly thanks to game-oriented small-group work.

The question then becomes, how can teachers make space for this important small group work?


The Case for Individual Math Work

One way teachers can make space for small group work is by giving students quality independent work. However, on its own independent math work is an essential part of successful maths instruction. It is through independent work that students can put into practice what they’ve learned in small group instruction. Without independent practice, students can’t master math concepts and skills.

There are various options for independent work including:

Math Centers: Math centers can feature manipulatives, task cards, and a wide range of maths skills students can work on. Students can independently rotate through the centers to work on a variety of topics such as addition, geometry, measuring, etc. The downside to these centers is that teachers cannot always keep track of student responses to monitor progress. However, teachers may consider having students record their work in a notebook.

Digital Maths Platforms: Platforms like Matific offer a K-6 program featuring many different activities that are real-world and very interactive. The questions are adaptive and differentiated based on each students’ math abilities.

One great advantage of Matific is that teachers can monitor real-time progress and easily pull up reports to see how students are doing. This information can help teachers adjust small-group instruction to meet each students’ unique needs.

This individual work is important because students are able to work in a low-stakes environment and practice their math skills to build fluency. When using maths apps like Matific, students can even get feedback and support as they work!

Experts note that to overcome math anxiety and poor attitudes around math, students must have “the opportunity for personal mathematics accomplishment.” Each small individual success can build a student’s confidence and help them achieve maths success.

In addition to small group strategies and individual work, teachers can also help children build a growth mindset about math to boost their motivation and help them succeed in math.

With both small group instruction and individual work, you can help your students reach new heights in math! These teaching strategies not only lessen anxiety and stress, but help teachers more closely monitor their students.

Do you include small group and individual work in your math teaching?

Tell us about the teaching strategies you use to engage students, reduce math anxiety, and help every student acheive their full math potential! We’d love to hear from you.

Do you want to include Matific in your individual work plan? Get in touch to start your free trial!