Math center groups need to be flexible groups. Once a student has been placed in a group, this does not determine their ability level in math for the rest of the year. In fact, teachers should be looking at the data and moving students around regularly.
Flexible Groups, Not Ability Groups
Math center groups in my classroom are not grouped by ability levels. Let me explain why I do it this way. The math centers that I have in each tub are purposely chosen so that there are a variety of levels of complexity. Students are taught to choose “just right” activities from their center basket. If I have six students in a group, there may be 2 below level, 2 at level, and 2 above level in each group. My students are allowed to complete a center with partners. If a student has a question about their center activity, they are taught to “Ask 3 Before Me”. This rule is easy because the groups are mixed ability and the chances of someone in their group being able to help them is very likely.
Direct Instruction via Small Groups
You will also notice from the chart below that “Meet with Teacher” is not a center. The reason for this is because I choose to pull students of my choice during center time. For example, students with a red oval may be above grade level so during center time, I may say “All students with a red oval come back to the teacher table” and then at that time I provide an enrichment lesson. Whatever those students miss during that time does not have to be made up. Disclaimer: Students who don’t finish their independent activity come back to my teacher table first and then I meet with my small group for a lesson.
Math Center Groups
My math center groups are flexible. The math center grouping cards that you see below are editable so at any time, I can assign a student a different card if needed. This file is also available in a digital format for those teachers who prefer to display this on their smartboard. This option is nice for quick editing. I don’t find there to be a ton of movement from shape to shape but there is some. I determine these levels from district adopted pre-assessments that are given at the beginning of every math unit. However, the groups that the students are in for each math center do get changed. I change my groups about once a month or as needed. If I am noticing that the mix of students I have in a center isn’t working well together, I will switch them for the following week.
How to Rotate
When it is time for the next day’s center rotation, I simply move the name of the centers down one space and the bottom card goes to the top. This process is simple and quick- it takes 10 seconds and has become one of my end of the day tasks before I go home.