Supporting All Learners (Part 1): Grade 1 Mathematicians Explore Subtraction

By Jacki Brick posted 04-16-2018 09:24


As a Learning Support teacher, I look for opportunities to connect student thinking to in order to design small group lessons, and adjust my instruction based on their thinking. My role as a Grade 1 Learning Support is typically to push-in to support three classes. At times, however, we decide as a team to identify a small group for short-term intervention work. We did just that on our current unit: Basic Facts & Place Value. Keeping the two Mathematics Teaching Practices highlighted below in mind (Principles to Actions), I started our small group work with an exploration.

  • Elicit and use evidence of student thinking. Effective teaching of mathematics uses evidence of student thinking to assess progress toward mathematical understanding and to adjust instruction continually in ways that support and extend learning.

The unit began with a pre-assessment to determine focus areas for instruction, areas of strength, and areas of need. We identified five students for small group instruction. As a team, we noted that while most G1 students could “manipulate numbers” to find an answer, some struggled to explain why they were adding or subtracting. From my work with those students throughout the year, I knew that their “go-to” approach to number problems was to look at the numbers and “just do something to them.” The small group for this unit consisted of 5 students, who I work with regularly when I push-in to math lesson.

Our G1 team is cognizant of the fact that our students ‘get answers’ without always understanding the concept or what what the numbers mean. I continually look for ways to engage students in making those important connections among math representations.

  • Use and connect mathematical representations. Effective teaching of mathematics engages students in making connections among mathematical representations to deepen understanding of mathematics concepts and procedures and as tools for problem solving (Principles to Actions pages 24-29, Figure 9 included).

The unit continued with the same small group. During the first two days of lessons, I observed that students were continuing to only use a number line. One student also shared, “I can draw circles for the big number and cross out the smaller number and what is left is the answer.”  At that point, I was not convinced that the students were actively reasoning and connecting mathematical representations, so I planned the next two lessons accordingly.

I continue to focus on “making in-the-moment-decisions on how to respond to students with questions and prompts that probe, scaffold, and extend” (Principles to Actions, page 56). My next blog post will continue to follow the development of lessons around the two Mathematics Teaching Practices highlighted here.

Now it’s YOUR TURN → How do you elicit and use evidence of student thinking in your classroom? What have you noticed about primary grade learners’ use of mathematical representations?


Jacki Brick is a Learning Support teacher for Grade 1 at the American School of Madrid.  Throughout her 30 year career, Jacki has supported students at a variety of grade levels, from first through sixth grades. The first 5 years of her career were spent in Atlanta, Georgia, while the following 25 have been with the American School of Madrid.




05-25-2018 15:22

We will discuss this blog post on Twitter June 13, 2018 at 9 PM EDT. Please join us using the hashtag #TCMchat

04-24-2018 04:38

Thinking so much about how teachers use and elicit student evidence "live" during lessons... perhaps even without realizing it? This is such a great discussion and exploration to be shared.