Struggling middle schoolers make big math strides

Since using Total Motivation Math in the classroom, my students try harder. The interventions help the whole class to further understand the concept.

Celinda Morales
San Antonio, TX
Math scores up 10 points


Resnik Middle School in San Antonio, Texas, is largely comprised of economically disadvantaged students, and half of Celinda Morales’ 26 sixth-grade students are lower-level learners. Ms. Morales says that, as a whole, her class needed help developing greater motivation for learning math. Her students had relied too much on spoon-feeding and modeling during instruction, and were not motivated to practice independently when they entered middle school.

Teacher helps student with math assignment

Ms. Morales works one-on-one with one of her sixth-grade students.


Ms. Morales uses Total Motivation Math an average of three hours a week. She begins her week by using Vocabulary Activities in the Teacher Edition (TE) to review the terms from the prior lesson. Then she starts a new lesson, using the Introduction Activity from the TE for the whole class. She projects the lesson on the interactive whiteboard to model how to solve the problem, then the students follow along working in their print Student Editions (SE). An online edition is also available.

On Tuesday, Ms. Morales warms up the class by directing them to their SE to complete the Journal Activity, followed by continued instruction using the Introduction section in the SE. Mid-week, she starts class with the Vocabulary Activity and then moves to the Guided Practice, where she may do half of the problems with her students to model the concept.

My students try harder and they ask questions. You can tell they are really trying to grasp these concepts.

At the end of the week, she uses the Independent Practice as a type of assessment to see how well students understand the concept. One of the keys to Total Motivation Math is its flexibility, which allows Ms. Morales to use the Independent Practice in this way since, for her purposes, it’s rigorous enough to serve as an assessment for her students. Some weeks, students who successfully complete the Independent Practice go on to the Assessment activity in Total Motivation Math. On occasion, students who finish early also work on the Critical Thinking activity, which challenges them to practice deeper thinking skills.

Ms. Morales’s favorite feature in Total Motivation Math is the list of Intervention strategies. She is able to review student progress and plan additional instruction or interventions as needed. The TE suggests several research-based activities to choose from that suit the needs in her class and help close learning gaps. “I use the interventions a lot,” she says. Ms. Morales utilizes small groups for “students needing extra help with the skill,” she says, but the entire class can benefit. Instructional coach Amanda Heavyside adds, “For those who use the TE, the lessons went more smoothly, there were fewer student errors and more teacher understanding of content, and they had more creative ways to open or close the lesson.”

Student completes math assignment in a book.

Students work independently on assignments from Total Motivation.


Increased Scores

After using Total Motivation Math 3 hours a week during the 2016–2017 school year, class scores improved by 10 percentage points as measured on the spring assessment. Resnik Middle School, which used Total Motivation in all math classrooms, earned the TEA Distinction for Academic Achievement in Mathematics for 2017.

More Engagement and Effort

Ms. Morales used to receive as few as three homework assignments back. When they began learning the basic skills using Total Motivation Math, more students began completing their homework. “My students try harder and they ask questions. You can tell they are really trying to grasp these concepts,” she notes. The Intervention activities help to motivate students, especially lower-level learners.

Better STAAR Prep

“I like that Total Motivation Math has a lot of skills formatted in a word problem,” says Ms. Morales, noting that it’s “very similar” to STAAR. “It helps students to be prepared for how they are going to see it on the test.” She also appreciates the print SE because it gives her students the opportunity to work problems using pencil and paper so they’ll be familiar with the format of the test.

Increased Reading Comprehension

Ms. Morales also considers the SE’s Journal prompt as one of the most helpful features for increasing reading comprehension, since many of her students come to math class still struggling with reading. She uses the Vocabulary Activity to create interest, making it easier for students to do math.

Increased Student Achievement

For the 2016–2017 school year, Resnik came in third overall in the district after using Total Motivation Math. “They are doing a little better on our district common assessments,” notes Ms. Morales, which motivates her to continue having her students practice their skills. Using Total Motivation Math, she was able to develop more independent learners by end of year. She says, “When I was able to let go, my students showed me they could do it.”

More Much-Needed Rigor

Even though Total Motivation Math has more rigor than what students were used to before, they are meeting the challenge and making progress. “They are ‘thrown into’ a word problem, so it’s helping them,” Ms. Morales says. As a teacher, she appreciates that her students must wrestle with concepts to understand the problems they are expected to solve—in class and at test time. Whereas she spoon-fed them at first, they could undertake more rigorous work as the year went on and they had more practice. “They proved me wrong,” explains Ms. Morales when she was tempted to think students could not rise to the challenge of the increased rigor. Now, she says, “It’s working. We’re getting closer to where we need to be.”

A Week in the Classroom with Total Motivation Math

Ms. Morales uses the wealth of activities found in Total Motivation Math to help students gain more independence as learners. With so many instructional resources and intervention strategies provided, she can spend more time teaching and less time prepping.

Weekly Instructional Plans

Use Vocabulary activity (TE) to review terms from last week. Introduce new content using the Introduction activity (TE), then model problems from the SE on the whiteboard as students follow along in print.

Warm up with Journal activity (SE) then continue working on Introduction problems in the SE as a class.

Begin class with the Vocabulary activity (SE). Model problems in Guided Practice (SE). Encourage students to try to complete some problems in partners or on their own.

Assign Independent Practice (SE) as an assessment to monitor student understanding.

Work with small groups using Intervention activities (TE). Assign the Critical Thinking or Assessment activities (SE) to students who understand the content.

TE=Teacher Edition / SE=Student Edition