Math Intervention and Tutoring: Helping Struggling Students

ALI Staff | Published  August 10, 2021 | Updated October 23, 2023

In education, not all students progress at the same pace, especially in mathematics.

For those facing challenges in this subject, a specialized approach known as math intervention steps in.

Read on as we explore the components, strategies, and examples that collectively shape effective math intervention, paving the way for a brighter academic future for all students.


Teacher guiding student in math class


What is Math Intervention? 

Math intervention is a specialized approach designed to help students struggling with math.

It involves targeted, often one-on-one, instruction tailored to a student's specific needs. The goal is to catch them up to grade-level standards.

Within the context of math intervention, you may hear the term Math RTI (Math Response to Intervention).

Math RTI is a framework that helps teachers identify students in need of intervention, provide targeted instruction, and monitor progress.

Timely math intervention is crucial because students who fall behind in math often face compounding difficulties in other subjects. This can affect their overall academic performance and even their future career prospects.

Research shows that targeted support is most effective when implemented early, reducing the need for more extensive math remediation later on. 


What is Math Intervention Class?

Districts adopt a variety of different models to implement math intervention. 

Some commonly used models are:

  • Pull-Out Model: Students are "pulled out" of their regular classroom setting for targeted, small-group instruction.
  • Push-In Model: A math interventionist comes into the general education classroom to provide support by co-teaching or working with a small group within the larger class.
  • After-School Programs: These sessions are conducted outside regular school hours, specifically aimed at students requiring additional help.

What is a Math Intervention Program?

When choosing a math intervention program, certain key elements must be considered.

One of the first things to check is whether the program is research-based. This means it's built on solid evidence and proven methods, making it more likely to get results.

These programs focus on remediating specific math challenges, like understanding numbers, fractions, or algebraic equations.

Additionally, a strong math intervention program will feature ongoing assessments to monitor student progress. This ensures that students are making appropriate progress and helps educators adapt the program to the unique learning needs of each student. 


Importance of Personalized Instruction

One size definitely does not fit all in education, and this is particularly true in the realm of math intervention. Personalized instruction plays a critical role in a program's effectiveness.

Customized lesson plans, adaptive learning software, and individualized support from a trained math interventionist can significantly improve a student's academic outcomes.

Personalization goes beyond merely adjusting the difficulty level of problems; it also involves tailoring the instruction to fit the student's specific learning style, gaps in knowledge, and even their emotional needs and interests. 


What Math Intervention Looks Like

A well-structured math intervention lesson has several components, each designed to maximize learning and ensure student comprehension. Here's how a typical lesson might be broken down and why each part is essential:

  • Warm-Up Exercise: This initial activity serves to activate prior knowledge and prepare students for the lesson ahead. It helps get students mentally ready and focused on the subject matter.

  • Guided Practice: In this phase, the math interventionist introduces the new concept and works through examples with the students. This direct instruction provides a clear model for students, helping them understand the steps involved in solving particular types of problems.

  • Collaborative Work: Some lessons include a segment where students work together to solve problems. This allows for peer learning and lets students practice explaining their reasoning, which can reinforce their understanding.

  • Independent Work: After guided and possibly collaborative practice, students work on problems individually. This allows them to apply what they've learned and allows the instructor to assess individual understanding and skill acquisition.

  • Assessment/Exit Ticket: Wrapping up the lesson with a short assessment or an exit ticket provides an immediate look at student understanding. It helps the math interventionist identify which students have grasped the concept and who might need further review. 


Group Sizes and the Efficacy of 1:1 Intervention (Tutoring)

The size of the instructional group can greatly influence how effective an intervention is.

Small group instruction allows for more individualized attention, but maintaining a 1:1 ratio—often referred to as tutoring—can offer the most targeted support.

Tutoring sessions allow the math interventionist to deeply understand the student’s unique challenges and address them with tailored strategies.


The Role of Assessment and the Importance of Using Exit Tickets

Assessment plays a pivotal role in any intervention program. Through regular assessments, educators can determine the effectiveness of the intervention and make necessary adjustments.

A commonly used tool for this is the exit ticket—short, specific questions at the end of a lesson that give immediate insights into student comprehension.

These insights can guide lesson planning for future sessions. In addition to exit tickets, robust intervention programs often include regular progress-monitoring assessments to track a student's overall advancement in the math curriculum.


Examples of Math Intervention

There are many types of math intervention, each offering unique benefits. Below are some popular methods:


Direct Instruction

Direct instruction is a teacher-led approach where the instructor explicitly teaches specific mathematical concepts in a structured manner.

This step-by-step method usually includes a demonstration followed by student practice, making it especially effective for teaching straightforward skills and formulas.

It's a commonly employed strategy in research-based math intervention programs.


Metacognitive Strategies

Metacognitive strategies teach students to think about their own thinking while solving math problems.

With guidance from the teacher, students learn to set specific goals, make a plan to reach them, and keep track of how they're doing along the way. After completing a task, they evaluate how well their plan worked.

This structured way of thinking is especially helpful for struggling students, giving them a roadmap to tackle complex problems. 


PALS (Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies)

PALS centers around collaborative learning. Students are paired or grouped together to work on exercises and problems.

Typically, one student assumes the role of the 'teacher' while the other is the 'learner,' and they switch roles periodically.

This peer-teaching model fosters engagement and has demonstrated effectiveness in improving math skills.


1:1 Tutoring

One-on-one tutoring provides personalized, targeted instruction tailored to a student’s specific needs.

It allows for immediate feedback and adjustments, optimizing learning outcomes.

For older students, Math Nation On-Ramp offers round-the-clock access to experienced tutors known as Study Experts, as well as a comprehensive library of on-demand lessons based on illustrative mathematical principles.


Conclusion: The Path Forward

As we navigate the educational landscape after the pandemic, it's clear that a well-designed math intervention program can be a game-changer for struggling students.

Success hinges on several critical factors: the program must be research-based, incorporate ongoing assessments, and offer personalized instruction.

Each lesson should be structured to include components like warm-up exercises, guided practice, and exit tickets, aiming to maximize both teaching and learning.

By taking the proper steps in these areas, we can help struggling students and improve the educational environment for all learners.

Let's commit to making math intervention as effective as possible, shaping a brighter academic future for our students.




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