Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Centers for the Beginner

Hi everyone!  I'm Rebecca from The Teacher's Chatterbox.  I am so excited and honored to be an author at Simply Learning Centers!  Centers have been a part of my classroom for many years...even before anyone else at my school was doing them.  So, I thought for my first post, I'd start from the beginning for those that might have never incorporated centers into their classrooms.

{The above pic was my center board about 6 years ago.}

First, I want to say that each year is different.  What might work really well with one group, might not work with the next ones.  What works for one teacher may not work well for you in your classroom.  So don't be afraid to venture away from what "everyone" is doing if it doesn't work for you.

Next, before you begin any new must MODEL AND PRACTICE!  Students need to know what to do when they get to that center.  Remember, the point of centers is to get kiddos actively engaged in their learning, and also allow you to work with small groups on differentiated and explicit instruction without interruption.

So, as you begin centers for the first time, model and practice!  Talk about troubleshooting in each center so they can work things out {most of the time} within their group, without interrupting you!  In the beginning, I also do a lot of role play....I have some students show the class what that center "looks like" and "sounds like".  Then, I have a group that shows the class what that center does NOT look and sound like.  They love to do this!  hee hee  Brainstorm with your students and come up with an "I CAN" list to post in each center.  This way it will always be readily available, and they won't have to interrupt you.

If you take the time from the very start to do this, you will have much more success with centers!

For grouping students, I use Dibels data, and teacher observation logs to determine my groups.  Now, I use to be a HUGE proponent of heterogeneous groups!  I wanted to have stronger readers mixed in with my struggling readers for peer models.  However, when our school received the Reading First grant the first time, we were expected {per the grant} to group homogeneously.  This way students would be grouped according to ability for the teacher to better meet their needs.  I knew I had to do what was expected of me and this is what research said, but I wasn't convinced this was the best way.  However, I was pleasantly surprised at how well this worked with it allowing me to really create differentiated instruction that was explicit.  We completed the requirements of the grant several years ago, and I am still grouping homogeneously for center time...I like it that much!  :)  I do have my students' desks {where they spend the majority of the day} grouped and those groups are heterogeneous so that they do have good peer role models to work with throughout the day.
The size of your group is important as well!  Many people have success with pairing students.  I have four/five in my groups.  It just works better for me.  I would not have more than five in a group or you defeat the purpose:  being able to work with students more individually or in small groups!  :)

For management of centers you need to consider a few things. 1.  How will your students know what centers they will go to for the day? 2.  How will your students know when it is time to change centers?  3.  What do they do if a computer freezes up or their headphones don't seem to work?   For question number 1, I have tried several ways over the years, but my favorite is to have a board that is easily changeable.  My kiddos have center group names {depending on my classroom theme} that the kids decide on.  This year we are doing owls, so they each have an owl name.  There is a picture of each owl with two centers beside the name.  For question number 2, I have a bell that I ring between centers.  One ring means to clean up their area, and two rings mean move to the next center.  In the beginning, this should be model and practiced, as well.  And as for number 3, this is where your troubleshooting will come in.  Before you ever begin the center, you need to think of things that might go wrong in that center...such as the computer freezing, the volume knob might get changed, etc.  Then you present, model, and practice these at the very start.

Ok, so are you seeing anything that keeps coming up???  Yep, if you said "model and practice" you are correct.  I promise this will make life during centers a much more happy time!  So, if you haven't implemented centers before in your reading block, I hope you will consider it!  You can start off slow with easier centers such as a listening center, computers, or BIG books, and then work your way up.

Gosh, I hope there is something here that beginners can take and apply in their classrooms!

Center Time Blessings,

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