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Keeping Students On Task During Guided Math: 3 Questions to Ask Yourself

Many teachers recognize the impact Guided Math can have on their students’ success. So, why are they reluctant to implement it? Or…why do teachers give up on Guided Math when it doesn’t seem to be working?

The biggest issue I hear teachers complain about is their struggle with keeping students on task. 

After all—if you aren’t right there supervising, how can you count on them to actually get their work done instead of spending Guided Math time goofing around?

Here are 3 things to consider.

Keeping Students On Task During Guided Math

Question 1: Do You Have Any Students Who Trigger?

There may be some students in your class that will never be able to handle working independently no matter how great your system is. These students typically “trigger” other students to get off task. If you can remove a “trigger” student from a situation, many times the rest of the class can really get some work done.

Now, I know you might be thinking—I have many of these “trigger” students and I can’t remove them all.

Of course you can’t! But sometimes breaking up a clique is just what is needed to see a difference.

What will the students who trigger do during Guided Math? The most important thing is to not have them wandering the room, distracting their classmates.

*NOTE* These students do not need to be punished, removed from the classroom, or anything like that. 

Instead, you can give these students a special assignment to work on at a place that is physically close to your teacher table (where you’ll be having your lessons).

Any time I have needed to have a student work in a separate space by themselves, I have given them fun activities to work on so they don’t feel like it’s a punishment. I’ll keep a folder of activities for this student, and during Guided Math, I’ll give them things to work on once they’ve finished their independent work. 

You can also give these students customized Must Do May Do charts to keep them on task and working independently.

Question 2: Where Are Your Students Working?

Are you having your students wander the room from group to group or station to station? I’ve never been a fan of this style of Guided Math because unless you have an adult at each group, it leads to students getting off task. 

Instead, I have my students do all of their work at their desks.

They move through our “Must Do May Do” tasks at their own pace. Yes—this means some students will get much more done than others. That’s okay! As long as your students are working, it’s fine if some move through activities more quickly than others—they are diverse learners after all! 

Keeping students working at their own desks can help eliminate the problems that arise when students travel the room together in groups.

Question 3: Do You Have Enough May Do Activities?

Another reason students can become off-task during Guided Math is because they are all hurrying to get their work done so they can all do the same “May Do” activity. This can be especially true if technology is one of your may do activities. If you have 12-18 students working independently at their seats, and then rushing to computers when they finish their work, of course they will be off task when they get there! (Especially if they need to take turns.)

In a situation like this, you need to make sure you have PLENTY of may do activities for your students to choose from, and you need to have rules about how often they can do certain ones.

**If your students fight or argue over sharing technology, create a simple sign-in system and limit the number of times they can use technology each week. Once they have reached their limit, they have to do something else until the next week.**

At the beginning of the year, I prep a year of centers for my classroom. Throughout the year, I search for additional things I can add to my center bucket based on the topic we are covering. My students rarely are off-task because they have so many options to choose from during the May Do part of Guided Math.

Keeping students on task during Guided Math takes some practice and takes constant adjustment.

But the benefits of working with your students in a small group setting likely far outweigh any frustrations you may feel about off-task students. 

Learn More About What to Have Your Students Do During Independent Practice!

Guided Math Independent Practice

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