5 Principles for Addressing Math Skill Gaps

5 principles for addressing math skill gaps 

Welcome to Part 2 of our 3-Part Series on Math Skill Gaps.  Previously we addressed how to identify math skill gaps.  You can check out that post here.  Today our focus is on addressing math skill gaps.  There are a variety of tools that can be used to help with remediation, but today provides an overarching view of five principles to consider when planning your lessons or activities to address your students’ math skill gaps. 


Use a Consistent Format

Consistency is a great strategy for training the brain to absorb and hold onto new information.  This is especially important to keep in mind for your Type A learners.  Choose a lesson format or activity and keep it consistent throughout the practice.  This will increase student confidence because they will have a better idea of what to expect.  They won’t need to focus on directions or rules and can put all their brainpower toward the math skill you are trying to reteach.


For me, I have even gone so far as to put the same TYPE OF SKILL in the SAME BOX on a worksheet week after week.  Students develop a rhythm to their practice, which leads to greater confidence and greater retention.  I also love this strategy because it helps students develop independence and ownership of their learning.  If a student has a question on question #5, I direct them to look at #5 on a previous worksheet for guidance.  They can often recall how to perform the indicated math skill by reviewing their own work from an earlier assignment.


5 principles for addressing math skill gaps 

Commit to Long-term Retention

Math skill gaps are inevitable for many students, and with remote learning due to COVID-19 the risk of math skill gaps is higher than ever.  To combat this, I recommend engaging in skills practice weekly throughout the entire school year.  As often as possible, have students work on specific review skills to increase retention and address skill gaps that have infiltrated over time.  Consistently practicing throughout the school year will keep those skills top of mind with students and will yield better retention.


5 principles for addressing math skill gaps


Allow for Self-Reflection

How much do we wish our secondary math students would take ownership over their learning??  This can certainly be a challenge in many classrooms.  Giving students the tools and time to allow for self-reflection will increase the odds that they will take more ownership.  Have students keep a Student Skill Log to track and measure their growth.  Here are 3 ideas for what these Skill Logs could look like:


Graphs - You could have students create graphs to monitor their improvement.  Students construct a bar graph that shows their scores on a number of similar assignments for a visual representation of their progress.  Each bar represents their score on the next assignment and they can quickly fill it in as they go.


Checklist - Students could create checklists of their progress.  Given a list of skills, they can put a checkmark next to those they get correct on each assignment.


Journaling - You could ask students to journal about their progress.  They can reflect on which skills they feel they are strong with and which they need to practice more.  This could occur in the form a 5-minute free write at the end of a class period.


5 principles for addressing math skill gaps


Data Collection as a Pedagogy Tool

Experts are pushing for data-driven teaching.  Although data collection makes some of us cringe (myself included) because it is often taken too far, there is certainly value in logging student progress and using the information to drive instruction.  For example, if giving consistent practice through worksheets, exit tickets, etc, keep a paper log or Excel spreadsheet to monitor overarching growth.  How many students did not correct apply the Distributive Property, solve the equation or determine the discount on this worksheet?  Log the general number of each so you can find glaring skill gaps among your class population.  By looking at the big picture of class progress, you will have data to know what to review and to drive instruction.


5 principles for addressing math skill gaps


Pencil and Paper Approach

Yes, we’re remote learning, distance learning, hybrid learning: whatever you want to call it.  Do not completely lose a pencil and paper approach.  There is a lot of brain-based learning evidence that strongly suggests retention is higher when students write out the steps with pencil and paper over clicking around on a screen.  One way that I have addressed this with my students is assigning work via an online platform like Google Classroom, but asking students to write out their work on a piece of paper.  Students then take a photo of their work and upload it.  This is a two-fold win: students are increasing their chance of retention and I am seeing their work to identify and correct skill gaps.  If this technology is not available for students they could write out their work and then Zoom conference or engage in a phone call where they can explain the steps they took to solve the problem.


5 principles for addressing math skill gaps


Have you heard of Math Skill Drills?

Okay, so if you love all of this, what if I told you that all this planning and preparation could be done for you?  Everything described in this post is something I considered when I created Math Skill Drills for Grades 6, 7, and 8.  With the purchase of this resource, you’ll get 20 consistently aligned 20-question worksheets, a student skill log, and teacher’s log.  Students can consistently practice their math skills throughout the entire school year; tracking their progress using a checklist strategy.  You, as the teacher, will use the log to keep track of major skill gaps and address with reteaching lessons.  Amazing, right?  So what are you waiting for?  Learn more here.



Thanks for reading!  Make sure you are subscribed so that you’re notified when the next post on differentiating skills practice is up on the blog.  Click the image below to read the previous post:

5 tips and tools for identifying math skill gaps

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