Hi! I am Jamie from Not So Wimpy Teacher. I am beyond honored to have the opportunity to be a guest blogger for Rachel Lynette.
I love to use guided math and reading groups to teach and differentiate in my classroom. This means that my students need to have independent centers that they complete while I am working with small groups. When other teachers visit my classroom, they say something like, “This is so awesome, but my kids could never do this.” Yes, they can! I am not blessed with perfect classes! I have students with special needs, dyslexia, ADHD, etc. I don’t have an aid or an assistant. My students don’t come to me knowing how to work independently in centers. I teach them, and you can, too! I analyzed my center rotation time and came up with five reasons that I believe centers work in my classroom.
When my teammates have already started small group rotations and curriculum, I am still teaching my kids center rotation procedures. Every year this makes me nervous, but I know that the pay off will be BIG! It typically takes a full two weeks to train my third graders. If your class needs more time, don’t be afraid to invest that time NOW to save the headaches and lack of productivity later.
Here is a list of procedures that you want to be sure to teach your students before you start your guided small groups.
Credits: KG Fonts, Teacher Super Power, Melonheadz, and Kelly B.
I teach center procedures whole-group using several different strategies. We will learn centers one at a time. I like to start with the center that is the toughest for students to stay on-task, such as read to self or a game center. I start with the toughest center so that students will have more time to practice before being asked to do it independently. When a center is introduced, I model what the center will look like. Students share what they notice. Then, I ask a few students (I pick the ones that I think may have the most challenges during rotations!) to model the center INCORRECTLY. They love it. The class laughs, and my model gets the attention they needed. We talk about what didn’t go well. Then, I ask the same child to model the correct behavior. I praise the student, and the class talks about all of the great things that happened. This modeling strategy is one I got from the book The Daily 5™, and it is very effective.
After we have done this a few different times, I have the whole class model the center. If we are practicing a silent reading center, then the whole class does silent reading. If we are practicing a math game center, then we all play the games. I join in. I am a model, and I want my students to see that. If at any point students get off task or lose focus, I stop everyone and call the class together. I don’t want them to start bad habits. The class will reflect on their performance and make goals for improvement next time. Once my class can complete a center whole group, we will learn a new center. After we know two or more centers, we add the modeling and practicing of transitions. We continue this process until all four stations are learned.
Finally, I break students into their assigned groups. We are ready for our first week of stations!
My students know the procedures for center time, and I am careful to also let them know what the consequences will be for failing to meet the behavior expectations. Then, I am firm on those consequences. This is tough. At the beginning of the year, we all want to get our students to like us and to think that the school year will be fun. It’s hard to be firm. But, I promise you the payoff will be so worth it. During the first week of centers, I do not meet with my guided math and reading groups. I give them a game or an activity that can easily be completed on their own at the back table. I promise that this is the only week that my students will do “busy work” during small group! I spend the first week monitoring, correcting, and answering questions. If a student is off-task, then I have them move their clip down or pay me with class money. When students or groups of students are especially engaged in their centers, I reward them. Whatever classroom management system that you use, don’t be afraid to use it right from the start. Being firm now will help to ensure that the next nine months are smooth and that students are able to grow through independent reading or math centers. After a week of watching and monitoring student centers, my class is ready for me to take my place at the back table teaching guided groups.
Transitions are taught, modeled, and practiced at the beginning of the year. Even though my class transitions very quickly and quietly, it is still time lost. I used to meet with each of my four small groups for 15 minutes per day on Monday-Thursday. So, each student spent an hour with me and an hour at each of the three other stations. The problem? It wasn’t ever really an hour because of the time spent getting out materials and putting materials away. It seemed like as soon as we started reading or working on an interactive notebook activity, it was time to rotate. I felt rushed, and I didn’t feel that my students were productive. Now we have two rotations per day and each rotation is 30 minutes long. I still get an hour per week with each group. The 30-minute block gives us more time to get invested in our work and increases productivity. Please note that you may need to start with 15- or 20-minute centers at the start of the year while students build their stamina. Here is a little peak at my rotation schedules.
My reading and math centers stay the same all year! Some teachers change out centers every week, but then they have to waste precious classroom time giving directions. Students don’t ever get proficient with the expectations for each center. Obviously, my students need to practice new skills throughout the year. I change out the skill of the center, but the format stays the same. For example, during math my students complete a hands-on, independent center rotation. The centers include a variety of sorts and activities. They will always do this center, but I change the skill once per month. The first month will be review from the previous year. The next month will be place value. The format and recording book look the same. Students feel successful, and I don’t have to give new directions after the procedures have been taught. This also saves me loads of time grading and prepping centers. I do the same thing with my math fact center and my language center during reading!
I do not cancel centers unless I absolutely MUST due to holidays or school events that are out of my control. Consistency helps to keep my students on-task. They like routines! Refusing to cancel centers also shows my students just how much I value the time we spend in small groups. When it is our scheduled center time, we stop whatever else we were working on. Our centers schedule is posted so that students have a reference and do not need to ask me during my precious guided groups.
I sincerely hope that some of these tips help you to make the most of your independent center rotation time! I would love to connect with you. Use the social media links below to find me. Visit my TpT store, connect with me on Facebook, and read more on my blog!