I teach an “Accelerated Grade 7” math course which covers all of the grade 7 Common Core standards and many of the grade 8 standards. As such, I teach any student who’s ready to take it – I have mostly seventh-graders, but I have a handful of sixth-graders taking it ahead of schedule, and a handful of eighth-graders who are moving along at a slower pace.

A few of the seventh- and eighth- graders have academic deficiencies to the point that I do not know what to do or how to teach them effectively. It’s keeping me up at night and I wondered if anyone had some advice for me. This is what I mean and what I’m looking for.

I have one student who has very little concept of place value. As in, he holds a centimeter ruler up to an object and tells me “I know it’s between the 5 and the 6. I just don’t know how to write that number.” The idea of tenths never really got there.

Several of the kids don’t have the concept of area as a measure of coverage of 2-dimensional space. They can count squares and work with whole-number areas if they are given a diagram with squares on it. But given an object’s dimensions with rational numbers, and asked to find its area or surface area – not at all sure what that means.

Given an equation, such as “3x + 5 = 17”, they don’t understand what the equation means so can’t even begin to guess what value of “x” would make it true. This is where we are, when the kids are 13-14 years old and about to enter algebra I.

I fundamentally believe in giving the kids access to math that will challenge them and help them grow, and I’m really frustrated – and it keeps me up at night – when we take a test, and the paraprofessionals who help in my class report to me that some students did not know how to even start, what to do, or what anything meant.

During lessons, what makes all of this phenomenally more difficult is that most will hide what they don’t know – pretending to write, hovering over their papers, asking for bathroom or supply breaks, copying answers from a friend, etc. I can only get a sense of where they are if I sit and interview the student, which as you probably can guess, doesn’t happen as often as I’d like.

You might have seen students like this before, you might not – what I’m wondering is what you have done that has helped you and the kids work past it. Please give me some ideas – how can I structure my lessons, how can I use the paraprofessionals and SPED teachers better, how I can systematically identify, help, and give feedback to kids who are working way, way below grade level in a grade-level math class. What has even been partially successful for you?

Thank you so much in advance!!