Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Centers...the beginning and now

Center time (or workstation time, whichever you call it) is something that starts slow and simply, and grows and changes along with the students.  While centers are going on, both my assistant and I are pulling small groups---I work with word study or guided reading groups, and my assistant often works with math skills or writing.  
Some basic principles of centers in my classroom:
     1.  Centers are never used to introduce skills.  They always reinforce skills we have  
           already learned  and practiced in whole group or small group activities.

     2.  Centers are more about process, not necessarily a product.  My goal is for students to be 
          actively engaged during center time.  If center time ends and the task is not completely
          finished, but the student was engaged and focused during center time, the actual 'product'
         (often a recording sheet of some sort) doesn't necessarily need to be finished.  I don't want 
         students who work more slowly to be penalized---and get bogged down in an endless cycle
         of not moving on because they didn't finish the last center they were working on.   
         Obviously, there are exceptions, but overall this is the plan.
     3.  As much as possible, center activities are hands on activities.  I love Dr. Jean's worksheet      
          philosophy (my paraphrasing): "If the student can't do a worksheet (because they don't 
          have the skills), why have them do a worksheet?  And, if the student does have the 
          skills and can do a worksheet, why have them do a worksheet?"

     4.  I have students work in pairs.  I have tried groups of three or four, and groups of two 
          just seem to work best.  It started out of necessity three years ago, when I had an 
         extremely small room to work in.  After we moved to a larger room, my assistant and 
         I both agreed that pairs still seemed to be the best option.   The teams are changed often, 
         so that students don't get into a rut and have the opportunity to work with many different 
         children throughout the year.

     5.  Often the procedures stay the same in a center, and the materials are just slightly changed 
         to keep it interesting.  This saves a lot of time when explaining new centers---no more 
         30 minute explanations, just to have students forget what to do by day 3.  Now it takes 
         10-15 minutes maximum to explain 36 centers (yes, I said 36).

At the beginning of the year, we start by showing students how to use the materials. On the first day, we start with everyone using the same manipulatives,  On the second day, we introduce another manipulative, and half the class uses one manipulative, and the second half uses the other.  When the timer goes off, we switch.   The third day brings three manipulatives, and so on.  

At this point in the year, things look much different.  We integrate skills, such as fine motor and science, or reading procedural text and following directions.  I put a lot of time and effort into
creating authentic centers, as you can see by the center board below.   The kids do love centers,  though, which makes it worthwhile for me.  We have a new student, and on the first day I had all            of the students introduce themselves to him by sharing their name, their age, and what their favorite
thing about school was.  Almost every single child said center was their favorite thing about school!
Here is the center board:

And here is a glimpse at some of the centers from around Christmas (these are the pictures I have home with me at the moment):

I'll try to post more recent pictures when I get back to school after spring break.

I'm still alive and kicking...or should I say alive and limping...

Well, I must apologize--I have severely neglected my blog.  I had great intentions, but once school began I realized that I might have   I have been so exhausted by the end of each day, that I don't even want to stalk my favorite blogs.  

I was diagnosed at the end of the school year last year with fibromyalgia, and I am still learning how to manage life with it.  In a nutshell, I have to do a lot less than I am used to doing, and it is very frustrating.  I've always been the teacher who stays late, working on the next project.  Now I try to hold out thirty or forty minutes after the kids go home before crying 'uncle'.  I have a longer ride to and from school this year, so by the time I get home, I usually head straight to bed.

Needless to say, the blog has not been tended to very well.  Since this is my spring break week, I want to try to get two or three more entries added.  Maybe then I'll be able to add a short note or two through the rest of the year---we have 44 more school days, and plenty left to do.

I never posted the completed version of my room, so I will begin with that.  Keep in mind that these were all taken at the beginning of the year---if you walked into my classroom today, you would find much more has taken up residency---and I'm feeling the need for a severe spring cleaning. 

This is the view as you step right into my classroom.  Straight ahead you see the 'check-in table'--where students find their stars and put them into the lunch pockets.  This is a quick way to take attendance, and it also tells us if the students are bringing lunch from home or if they are purchasing a lunch from the cafeteria.   The extra-wide pocket chart on the left is our center board, but at the time this was taken, we had not yet implemented the center 'system'.  We begin the year introducing centers one at a time, going over procedures and practicing using the materials correctly.  After the third or fourth week of school, students are ready to officially start the rotation system.
This is the view to the immediate right--still right inside the doorway.  On the left of the picture you see the mailboxes/check-in table.  The table that has no basket on it is our 'breakfast' table--because, yes, we are lucky enough to have breakfast in the room.  :( 

This looks a lot different now---we had borrowed a carpet from a WONDERFUL third grade teacher, because somehow our carpet had not gotten ordered.  She gave hers up so that we could start the year with one.  The one we finally got in January is much smaller, and we miss the extra space.  It took my students a while to get used to the fact that they no longer had a full 'box' to sit in, and that their neighbor would be sharing their 'space'.
This also looks a lot different now.  Our word wall is blank at the beginning of the year, and as we learn a word (not as it is introduced, but when it is a word most of us know) it is added to the word wall.  We do not include names on the word wall--it is intended to include only words that are those we know by 'sight'.  You can see the wooden bookshelf, and the books there along with the books in the blue book baskets (on the top of the bookcase and on the edge of the carpet) make up our "reading corner."  I would LOVE to have a true 'corner' or nook, and have fun ideas to use if I ever have the opportunity, but this classroom's set up does not allow for it.  The reason I do love having it by the main carpet is that it is our perpetual 'anchor activity' or transition activity.  For example, if students finish journal writing before others, they can go to the carpet and get a book.  They love to do this, and I frequently change the books that are available to them.  I always introduce the books when they change (and point out the labels that have changed on the book baskets), and this helps to build interest and excitement.  These are my personal books, and they take quite a beating at times, but I feel the payoff is well worth it---every year my students take with them a love of books that I hope will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

This is our 'supply shelf'.  Behind them are the two teacher desks--one for me, one for my assistant.  It was a long time before my students realized that there were desks there.  I never sit there, and my assistant only does if she is taking care of money (and she does this while I am leading the whole group lesson on the carpet, and students have their backs to her while they face me).  The supplies on the top shelf are the most important, and used daily.  The 'pencil bins' hold pencils, twistables, scissors, glue sticks, dry erase markers and 'marker socks' (black socks to wipe off the white boards), and sometimes additional odds and ends.  The blue baskets on the right are now filled with leveled books as well as various laminated cards that the kids love using.  These cards include hundred charts, money charts, color words, number words, and months of the year.  These 'book baskets' are usually on the tables in the morning as students arrive instead of the traditional 'morning work',  This means the students practice reading until the bell rings to start the pledge of allegiance, and then as soon as announcements are finished, we are ready to begin our day. 
This is 'my' corner.  I love having the storage seats, but I wish they were a bit taller.  I also had to cover some of the crate edges with black duck tape (yes, it's duck not 'duct') in order to keep the edges from scratching the legs of my students wearing shorts.

 That's it...nothing exciting, but now at least I don't feel as if I just left things hanging as far as my room.  The next post will be more interesting.  :)