Math Intervention
How One Teacher Transformed Math Instruction in Her School with Intervention and Professional Learning

John Muir Elementary School is a Title 1 elementary school. I support its teachers in math, and I teach a fifth-grade math class daily. This was my first year in the dual role; previously, I was a classroom teacher, with a majority of my teaching experience being in grades 3–5. 

I had the opportunity to meet Marilyn Burns when she observed a guest teacher in my fifth-grade classroom during the spring of 2015. She reached out to me afterward and asked, “What are you going to do tomorrow?” I had no idea! Luckily, she offered to chat and think through some next steps. From there, our collaboration around my math instruction continued, and Marilyn began to visit Muir to try out and model lessons for me with my own students. It was an extraordinary and beneficial learning experience. 

The following school year, 2015–2016, I was assigned to teach fourth grade. I had spent the previous five years teaching fifth grade and had never taught fourth graders. To prepare, Marilyn and I continued to collaborate throughout the summer around my new grade level. At the start of the school year, Marilyn and Lynne Zolli, a teacher and math author/consultant, came to my classroom and individually interviewed students to assess their numerical reasoning abilities. This helped us gain an idea of what the students knew and informed me about how to begin their math instruction. 

We were presented with a dilemma. All my students had large numerical reasoning gaps and the math skills of students two years behind their grade level. Marilyn and Lynne recommended that I look at a modular intervention program so we could meet the students where they were mathematically and provide intervention in order to help them catch up. 

I agreed. My fourth graders needed an intervention program to learn the math standards that relate to whole number addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and fractions. Marilyn and Lynne were available to help me understand the progressions of the lessons and model lessons with my students. We spoke weekly by phone, and they visited my classroom many times throughout the year. In early spring, they interviewed students again to assess their progress. 

I structured my 70-minute math block with a combination of number talks, lessons, and a math menu. Before meeting Marilyn and Lynne, I had been doing number talks daily, but this modular program and setting up a math menu were new to me. I had used math centers, but I wasn’t able to keep up with the organizational component that they required. For information about math menus, two resources from Marilyn were helpful. One is an article she wrote for Educational Leadership. The other is her more recent blog post. I found that the math menu provides time for students to engage with concepts and skills through games and lesson extension activities. It also provides me with a way to differentiate instruction and better meet all my students’ needs.


Math educator Sara Liebert, an Instructional Reform Facilitator at John Muir Elementary School in San Francisco, California.