The Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) is taking action to help all students succeed in math thanks to a new intervention project focusing on small-group instruction.

The WRDSB created the Intermediate Math Intervention Project to assist students in the classroom. Initially piloted in three schools in the spring of 2022, the program has expanded to encompass 20 schools throughout the WRDSB. The program utilizes a tiered small-group instruction approach to deliver targeted instruction based on individual student needs.

“I started this project with one of my four grade 8 math classes. When I saw results within that one group of students, I decided to try it on my own with my other three classes. I saw an improvement with all four groups,” said WRDSB teacher Amanda Berry.

The program is for Grade 7 and 8 classes and ensures students have the foundation to succeed in high school mathematics. Teachers, special education resource teachers and math intervention specialists work together to identify strengths and opportunity gaps and develop strategies to reinforce students’ understanding of math concepts. The program uses three tiers of learning to offer targeted support for students at all levels, and the results are starting to show.

“I didn’t like math. A lot of children didn’t like math because of how hard it was to learn and how difficult to understand in general. The small groups have made me change my perspective on math,” said Laila, a WRDSB student.

The program has shown that working with students in small groups can help to address specific challenges and support learning in the areas they need most. The program helps students gain the confidence to speak up and share their thoughts. Students build relationships and trust with teaching staff and fellow students. Students are also able to support one another in their learning.

“At a school like mine, it’s also provided an opportunity for other barriers to be eliminated. Multi-language learners don’t have to worry so much about not knowing the math vocabulary; in the small group, it’s addressed, and then they can dig down to the actual math needs and build on some of those strategies in a hands-on and dynamic way,” said WRDSB Principal Julia Passmore.

The program was very successful in its pilot phase, leading to its expansion to 40 classrooms in the 2022-2023 school year.

Understanding the difference programs like these will make in the long term takes time, but early results are promising. Students who receive timely and targeted support require less intensive support in the future. Currently, the best indicator is hearing directly from those who have been part of the program – including students and teachers.

School Boards across Ontario are dealing with the impacts of the pandemic. Many students struggled with online learning; now, we see those challenges reflected in their learning, including mathematics. Pre-pandemic WRDSB data showed that students who struggled in grade 9 Applied Math classes were far less likely to graduate. This illustrates the importance of improving conceptual understanding in elementary Math.

It will take time to understand the long-term impacts of the program. Currently, feedback from both students and teaching staff indicates early success.

“When the teacher is with you, you feel more comfortable being open. You get a lot of good support from the teachers. They’re patient and helpful. If you don’t understand, they take their time to help you understand, and it makes you feel important. It makes you feel like you’re more than just another student they teach,” said Marissa, a WRDSB student.

Watch this video to see the true impact of our Math Intervention Program:

The future is bright for all students at the WRDSB!