Goldilocks and the “Just Right” Math Lesson Plan

You care about your students, so you know it’s important to plan your instruction well.

When your student or child struggles with basic math concepts, that uncertain feeling in the pit of your stomach starts to simmer when the help you are trying to give doesn’t change the situation. 

 You’re trying to help your student catch up, but here’s how it goes; today the focus in the classroom may be addition or subtraction. 

You jot down a lesson plan and hunker down for some drill and practice with addition. Ah, it is familiar to your student! So you find some rhythm with your practice and it seems like she gets it. Yes, maybe you are both making some progress! After all, she should know this. Right?

Well yes, she may be familiar with addition and yes, she may know some of the addition facts. 

But does she really get it? 

The next day tells the tale. Although addition was familiar, it was not secure for mastery. So today you are back to where you were before; reviewing basic addition facts.

Only today, the class is practicing subtraction. Now, you are forced to make a timely decision. 

Today’s lesson had better shortcut addition practice and get right into subtraction so she can keep up with the class. But you can’t help having that nagging feeling that you’ve taken a wrong turn. You’ve made a necessary switch, but maybe not one that your student is ready to make.

And it is here where you find out that subtraction is an even less secure skill for her than addition. Your experience tells you that a solid understanding of addition is imperative if your student will truly understand subtraction.  And so it goes. You are unwittingly using the Goldilocks method of lesson planning. 

The Goldilocks principle is derived from the children’s story “The Three Bears” in which a little girl named Goldilocks finds a house owned by three bears. Each bear has its own favourite porridge, chair and comfortable bed. After testing all three examples of all three items, Goldilocks determines that one of them is always too much in one extreme (porridge too hot, chair too large or bed too hard), one is too much in the opposite extreme (porridge too cold, or bed too soft), and one is “just right”.

Similarly, the first plan I described is often intended as a  “catch up plan” which jumps right into the classroom curriculum so the student is up to speed with math concepts lickety-split. Goldilocks would tell you that plan is just too much for a struggling student.  It positions the student and you into a situation of overwhelm. 

A second approach is to place the student in an alternate curriculum workbook that is at his own skill level.  But often the struggling student is below the class level. Still it seems like a good alternative plan. Unfortunately, because he is on a different path than the students in his class and working independently, Goldilocks would say there is just too little interaction or timely feedback to be successful. 

You want your math lesson plan to be just right and Goldilocks would heartily approve. 

So what is just right? 

To start with, it is a lesson plan that begins with an accurate look at the skill level of your student as she is right now. That is the diagnostic aspect of the Orton-Gillingham Math Approach. Once you have established a clear idea of your students skill level, you can develop a lesson plan just for her that will review what she knows and includes the next concept that needs to be taught, or in some cases, re-taught.  

But it is not yet a plan that is just right! 

Because you need to evaluate how successful the current lesson was before you can plan the next one. That is the prescriptive aspect of Orton Gillingham Math. And that is how we move forward building what we refer to as “tiny habits”. I’ll talk more about them in the next blog article. 

Go to this link to learn more about OG (Orton Gillingham) Academic Math.

Or contact OG Math for a private link to the OG Math Online Training Course.