We hope your new school year is off to a terrific start! This issue of Class Ideas focuses on an approach to classroom learning and management that is gaining in popularity: learning centers or stations. Learning centers provide hands-on opportunities for independent or small-group exploration across the curriculum. And with the right resources at your fingertips, they are surprisingly easy to set up! Read on for some easy-to-implement tips to get your classroom humming with learning station activities. And be sure to check out this month's special on Didax's best learning center resources for math and literacy!
It's time for Mrs. Alvarez to assess her first-grade students' progress in conservation of number, but the challenge is to keep the other 18 children in the class engaged while she works with a small group of six. Instead of distributing worksheets and asking the children not being assessed to do busy work, she announces that it's time to go to the learning centers arranged around the classroom. Within minutes the 18 first-graders are happily engaged in tasks such as extending patterns, exploring the properties of shapes, and comparing the lengths of objects using a variety of materials.
Mrs. Alvarez is happy she invested the time at the beginning of the school year to plan and set up these math-focused learning centers. She recognizes that she has created a perfect environment for inclusive teaching -- and her students' interest in learning math concepts has never been greater!
Teaching students in small groups at their instructional level in math and reading is crucial to student achievement. The challenge for teachers is to keep the rest of the class productive and engaged while they work with small groups. As our glimpse into Mrs. Alvarez's classroom illustrates, learning centers or activity stations can be a valuable ally in this effort.
A Hub for Hands-On Learning
Learning centers provide a perfect vehicle for students to consolidate and reinforce skills. They give students the opportunity to use math skills and concept knowledge to solve problems independently or with peer support. A thoughtfully designed learning center can be visualized as a hub with a number of activity stations radiating from it. Each activity station has a theme, and ideally students are using their developing skills to solve real-life problems. Engaging themes can act as motivators, sparking interest and involvement in particular learning tasks at a deeper level. Themes also enable teachers to link curriculum areas, thus supporting integration of knowledge.
Learning centers can be designated areas in the classroom where students go to work or they can be activities in a box that students take down off a shelf and bring to their desks or a quiet corner of the classroom. Whether stationary or portable, learning centers work best for all students when you keep these five guidelines in mind:
Effective learning centers have activities that allow students to practice skills. Practice is important to achievement. Activities should give students opportunities to review and practice skills or concepts taught in whole-class or small-group lessons.
Effective learning centers have differentiated activities that regularly change. Teachers should conduct regular formal and informal student assessments and then match the activities to the different student interests, learning styles, and ability levels.
Effective learning centers have regular procedures and routines that make them easy to use. Label the learning centers with clear instructions, written and visual, on how to complete the task. It takes training, practice and monitoring for students to learn and follow the routines and the behavior expected at learning stations. Spend a week introducing the different learning stations and walking the students through the procedures for each.
Effective learning centers focus on the process and not the product. It is not necessary for students to complete a product at every learning station. Students engaged in reading, writing, or playing an educational game are making beneficial use of their time. Teachers often prefer learning activities that they don't have to correct!
Effective learning centers allow for choice. Choice is one of the biggest motivators, and students learn best when they have the opportunity to make choices about their own education. It is a good idea to allow some choice of activities at each learning center or station. A free-flow approach, where students are allowed to choose an activity, work on it as long as they want, and move to other choices freely, works well.
While it does take some teacher time and preparation, effective learning centers help students develop independence, learn through self-discovery, and practice and apply academic skills. Effective learning centers allow the flexibility for teachers to differentiate instruction for each student in the classroom -- a win for all concerned!
Click below for a sneak preview of Didax's soon-to-be-published Early Mathematics Learning Centers. With this book as a guide, kindergarten and first-grade teachers will have all the information they need to set up learning centers for foundational math concepts. Six activity stations per center provide a wealth of practical, fun activities. Try out a sample activity or two and watch your students discuss, explain, create, and communicate their way to a better understanding of patterns, number, measurement, shapes, and more!
Gimme five! No, make that ten! Next month Class Ideas takes a look at ten frames: a powerful manipulative for visualizing number patterns and relationships and grasping place-value concepts. We'll also be offering a fantastic special on a whole range of new and exciting ten-frame resources. You won't want to miss this issue!