View Only

IMPACTful Blog - Developmental Math

By Kathleen Almy posted 05-15-2024 14:52:19


When we’re teaching a developmental math class, we often have two goals: student engagement and learning. There are many ways to accomplish each. Below is a framework I use when teaching developmental math, but also college-level math, and even professional development. It’s both effective and flexible.

Assess – Before starting into objectives, a lesson, or an activity, first find out where your students are and what they need. This can be mentally (Are they stressed? Tired? Overworked?) and/or mathematically (How has the content been lately? Do they need more or less of a particular skill or concept?).

Achieving this can happen in many ways, so take the opportunity to be creative. Instead of asking “what questions do you have?”, consider giving each student a post-it note to write a current concern or need. They can put them on the board, allowing you to scan through and see a lot of data quickly. Or post an interesting graph from the news and ask a few questions for them to answer with a partner. This time allows you to circulate, check in with students, and get a sense of needs.

(Re)teach – At this point, it’s time to teach the lesson through examples, activities, problem solving, technology, applications, and more engaging ways. Again, take the opportunity to change things up regularly so that neither you nor your students disengage.

Equip – This is my way of saying “share all those little tips and tricks to succeeding in math and college that might be obvious to some but not all.” Many of our students are first generation and don’t know all of the tricks of the trade. And even ones who aren’t first generation are still learning how to be college students in a time very different from those of their parents.

Scaffold – This is the part of teaching where we help students bridge the gap from the simple ideas to the harder ones. I like to use what I call “bridge problems” – problems that are more than just plain skills but not completely a full application (in a context or not). These in-between problems help students make connections and see nuances which aid in their learning.

Apply – Now is the time to put everything together and apply the day’s concepts to a larger problem. Whenever possible, include realism and allow students to work and talk together instead of watching you. Whoever is talking is usually the person learning, or at minimum, engaged.


This framework accomplishes all the main aspects of learning that students need to be successful while giving you flexibility to use different approaches often. Together, these techniques increase student success and engagement.