Tips for Effective Remediation

Written by Donna Boucher

Donna has been a teacher, math instructional coach, interventionist, and curriculum coordinator. A frequent speaker at state and national conferences, she shares her love for math with a worldwide audience through her website, Math Coach’s Corner. Donna is also the co-author of Guided Math Workshop.
It’s testing season (sigh…), and before you get into the meat of the blog post, enjoy a good laugh with this video!  Just click on the picture.

I laugh so hard each time I watch that video, but it’s also a bit of a sad commentary regarding how we often ‘prepare’ our students for standardized tests.  I’ve been working with some of our 5th graders the past few weeks, helping to remediate before our state testing, and I wanted to share some thoughts about remediation.

Remediate the skill, not the test

It’s very common to give some type of benchmark test prior to state testing to determine the areas that students still struggle with, but sitting down with a student or students and ‘going over’ the items they missed on the test is not remediation. Explaining to a student why they missed the question isn’t likely to help them gain any additional understanding of the underlying skill.  If a student missed a question on fractions, you have to find out what they know and don’t know about fractions. What’s the best way to do that?  Talk to them!  Given the student a similar fraction problem and have them talk through their process for solving it.  You’ll know immediately when they stray off the path of understanding, and you can step right in with corrective steps.  Then be prepared with a few additional practice problems that they can work first with your support (through questioning, not telling), and gradually on their own.

Don’t resort to tricks

We’ve all been tempted.  It’s two weeks before the test and your students still can’t compare fractions.  Time to teach them to cross multiply!  Please. Don’t.  We owe it to our students to give them quality instruction, and that means teaching for understanding.

Help students recognize their strengths and weaknesses as mathematicians

This is huge!  Students need to hear that they have strengths and they also need to be aware of their weaknesses.  Consider this conversation I had while remediating a student on subtraction with regrouping:

I notice that one of your strengths as a mathematician is that you REALLY know your facts!  You knew that 15 minus 8 was 7 without even hardly thinking. That’s a huge strength!  Here’s what I noticed.  You really struggled regrouping when there was a zero in the problem.  Did you notice that?  (nods head) When you thought hard about it, you could remember what to do, but it was harder for you than the other subtraction problems wasn’t it.  If that’s a weakness you have as a mathematician, what should you do when you come to a problem like that?  Slow down?  Absolutely!  That’s a great idea. Just being aware that that’s a problem for you and that you need to slow down will help you do better.  What about checking with addition?  Would that be a good idea, too?  Oh, yeah, I think that would be good. Great!  Thanks for all of your hard work today. 

Contrast that discussion with this one I had with a student who was working on multi-digit multiplication:

You’ve just worked five multiplication problems for me, and you’ve got the process nailed!  You know exactly what to do, how to regroup–EVERYTHING!  But you got the wrong answer on three of the five problems. (looks shocked)  Really?  Yes, these three (pointing them out) are wrong.  Let’s look at this first one.  Walk me through your work.  8 times 6 equals (long pause and much thinking)…Oh!  It’s 48 not 52.  That’s right!  8 x 6 = 48.  How well do you know your facts?  Not too well.  That’s what I was thinking.  It looks like you missed these other two because of fact errors, too.  First, I want to suggest you practice when you can, because knowing your facts makes everything in math easier, but let’s talk about some strategies you can use on the test.  If you aren’t sure of a fact, should you guess?  No. That’s right!  Let me show you this tic-tac-toe strategy you can use when you’re not sure of a fact.  It would just be a shame to miss a multiplication problem because of a fact error when you can do all the really hard math, right? Yeah (sheepish smile). Awesome!  Thanks for working with me today. 

Realize how much YOUR attitude matters!

Think of yourself as a mirror, because your attitude and outlook reflects directly on your students.  Keep your conversations upbeat and positive.  SMILE!  Let your students know that you think the tests are exciting, because it’s a chance to really shine.  I like to compare it to the Super Bowl–sure the players have butterflies when they take the field, but their strongest emotion is excitement, not fear.  Remind them that they all have strengths as mathematicians and that they’ve learned strategies for overcoming their weaknesses.


  1. TheElementary MathManiac

    Another great post! These are great things to keep in mind when doing interventions. I think having a good attitude is the most important thing!

  2. Gary Fryns

    Hello Donna, I’m a fourth grade teacher outside Atlanta, Ga. And frankly, I’m stressing out about the test. AAAAHHH!! I have just upgraded two laptops at home which is great, but that means I also have two functioning laptops not being used. I thought about downloading some literacy and math programs onto them and using them as stand alones in the class. I am not finding anything that is going to work for me. Oh, I can find all the apps I want for iPad or tablets, but that isn’t the technology I have available. In your amazing mind can you think of anything I might try to get my kiddos closer to beating that test? Please help!

    • Donna Boucher

      Do you have internet access on the laptops? Ten Marks is great. Try also Xtra Math, Sumdog, and Arcademics Skillbuilders (Google any of those names).


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