What Does IM Think About Unfinished Learning and Supporting Students with a Variety of Entry Points? (Grades 6–12)

By the IM Team

In a class of 25 students, there are 25 different learners with 25 different backgrounds. Students come into the classroom with varied experiences with school, with mathematical content, and with life. While this has been true for time immemorial, teachers may feel it more acutely since the onset of the pandemic. The IM Team would like to support teachers with planning for the variety of student entry points. In particular, what features in the curriculum support strategies for providing additional time on prior content?

IM’s Approach to the Diversity of Student Entry Points

IM recognizes that students approach new mathematical learning with different entry points. Some teachers may have experienced a wider variety of entry points due to disruptions to the 2019–2020 and 2020–2021 school year. Other teachers may consistently experience a wide range of entry points, for reasons including disruption in formal education, lack of full access to content in prior grades, or because some students take more time to fully know, use, and enjoy content.

Extensive remediation on below grade-level content is not productive. When students have difficulties accessing grade-level work, the approach of giving students work from earlier grades is ineffective, and approaches that provide access to grade-level work are preferred. A recent study by TNTP showed that giving students work from earlier grades results in losing more academic ground and getting even less access to grade-level work in the future. In other words, “meeting students where they are” and trying to remediate learning deficits often results in having to meet them even further back next year. Those stuck in this cycle are disproportionately black and brown students, students experiencing poverty, students with learning disabilities, and students learning English.

Learning new ways to support students coming in with different entry points is challenging, but “. . .  trying to give every child a real chance to do grade-level work, however imperfectly, will lead to far better results than picking and choosing who gets those opportunities—right now and over the long run.” (Steiner and Weisberg, 2020)

IM is designed to provide access and challenge to all students within the entire, inclusive classroom. All students benefit from being part of the conversations and hearing multiple perspectives and approaches from their peers, and the curriculum is designed with a wide variety of entry points in mind.

Teachers take advantage of built-in features of the curriculum to respond to student thinking during grade-level instruction, including:

  • accessible tasks designed to invite a variety of responses and give students a chance to learn from studying multiple approaches
  • warm-up activities and activity launches designed to provide an invitation to the mathematics and activate prior knowledge in the service of accessing grade-level content
  • prompts in each activity to address misconceptions

IM has several built-in features to position each teacher to respond to student thinking in real time. There are suggested adjustments based on student responses to cool-downs and pre-unit diagnostic assessment questions. There are also additional resources, such as the Algebra 1 Extra Support materials. When a teacher is responding to student thinking during the lesson, each student’s learning is being addressed just in time and not postponed until later with a separate experience.

Strategies for Providing Additional Time on Prior Content

Given the wide variety of starting points students come in with, teachers may find that some students need additional time and additional instruction to be ready for grade-level content.

Schools provide additional time and additional instruction in a variety of ways, depending on student needs and available resources.

Support for the whole class

When most students in a class need some additional instruction to access grade-level content, teachers might use an optional lesson already in the curriculum, or use the suggestions in a Curriculum Adaptation Pack to find an activity, lesson, or practice problem from a previous grade or unit to supplement.

Adding supplemental material from a prior grade so that students can access grade-level content should be:

  • Just in time, rather than preventative. Rather than beginning the year with a long diagnostic assessment and spending several weeks covering prior-year material, use the Check Your Readiness pre-unit diagnostic questions and Curriculum Adaptation Packs to determine interventions needed just before encountering grade-level content within the unit.
  • Limited to what students need to access the grade-level content, so that students have a chance to do the major work of the grade. For example, in Grade 8 Unit 2, students will recognize when two slopes are equal. An unproductive approach would be to stretch back to grade 4 work on fractions of a pizza, or fractions of a dollar, or other contexts focused on visualizing equivalent fractions—this is unhelpful for the purposes of comparing slopes. Instead, the work students have just been doing in Unit 2 on similar triangles will help them in Unit 3 recognize that, for example, the slope 4/3 and the slope 8/6 are equal, and they can use different arguments for explaining why. A quick refresher on equal quotients, such as extending the warm up from Grade 8 Unit 2 Lesson 10 to include some more examples and a discussion of different strategies, some references posted in the room, and having a calculator handy may be all that is needed.
  • Balanced with thoughtful prioritization. IM used the guidance from Student Achievement Partners to prioritize major work of the grade in recommending lessons and topics to cut if most students need significant additional time to be ready for the grade. This ensures that students get to experience instruction on major work of the grade and don’t fall further behind.

Support for individual students

Unfinished learning is not the same as special education or having an Individualized Education Plan. Sometimes these two are conflated, but many students who have unfinished learning do not have learning disabilities, and many students with learning disabilities are ready for grade-level content provided there are multiple means of access and engagement. IM’s support for students with disabilities is designed to provide those multiple means per the Universal Design for Learning principles so each student has access to the grade-level content in the curriculum.

Because of this, students may need additional time focused on math for multiple reasons:

  • A student with an IEP may have the prerequisite understanding and skills, but may need more time to process the grade-level content being worked on or more ways to explore the content.
  • A student may be able, generally, to learn in the amount of time and structure of their math class but may need to understand additional content or skills from prior grades in order to be successful with upcoming content.
  • A student may need to learn content that they need to access upcoming content and may need more time and more means of access and engagement, representation, and action and expression to learn that content and the grade-level content being taught in their math class.

Therefore, it is important to be clear in planning whether additional time outside of math class is designed to make sure students are ready with prerequisite knowledge, or to give students who are ready for grade-level content but need more time and a wider variety of means of accessing the content, or an intervention class is serving both needs at once.

The IM curriculum does not currently have an aligned intervention product. However, when there is time outside the math block for additional support for individual students, we recommend fortifying the representations and routines from IM rather than learning other representations and routines. Being introduced to too many strategies, programs, and representations causes cognitive overload and dilutes students’ ability to focus on the math content. Extra time with what a student is seeing in math class, and with just-in-time prerequisite content, gives opportunities to be more successful in math class. For the Algebra 1 course, there is a set of support materials designed for this purpose. Read more about the Algebra 1 Extra Support materials.

In order to facilitate providing additional support outside of the math block with aligned routines, representations, approaches, etc., IM has resources that schools and districts can take advantage of:

  • pre-unit diagnostic problems (included in IM 6–12 Math as the Check Your Readiness assessment). These can aid in determining which students may need additional time focused on prerequisite content as well as identifying the most important prerequisite content
  • optional lessons and activities that often provide extra practice or review prior grade-level materials
  • notes for teachers in each cool-down with suggestions for supporting students including suggestions for reviewing prior learning to give more students access to the grade-level content. These can help teachers identify opportunities for both supporting grade-level content and supplementing with work on prerequisite content that may be impacting students’ current work
  • Curriculum Adaptation Packs, available on the LearnZillion platform and in the IM Community Hub, which suggest prior lessons, activities, and sections to revisit to help students get ready for upcoming work in a “just in time” fashion

Next Steps

Reflect: how do you support various student access points during math class? What structures can you put in place outside of class to support student access during class, and what might these additional math blocks look like? What parts of the IM curriculum would you want to use or reinforce?