How to Run Effective Centers

Small groups are essential for students to receive personalized instruction. In my classroom, I run small groups for reading, math, and flex time. At times, I also have Social Studies/Science, small groups.

For small groups to be effective, a schedule needs to be in place to make it clear to both students and teachers where each student should be and what students should be doing at each center. A sample of my schedules are below:

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I like to set up centers where students receive teacher instruction, have the opportunity to practice specific skills independently, a place where they can review skills, and a time where they can go on online programs that reinforce learning.

In my picture, you will notice that my small group visual on the board does not have arrows. Last year, I was able to have my students attend each center in a simple circular rotation, but this year, because the needs of my students have changed, not all students attend each center. To compensate for that, my students start at the same station every day so they know where to go after each rotation. One group starts at the teacher table, then goes to the independent poster station, and then go to vocabulary, and then technology. My students caught on pretty quickly and can transition independently to each place since the routine is the same each day.

Below, I will describe each reading center in detail. In a later post, I will share more information about my math centers and social studies/science centers.

Teacher Table: At the teacher table, I provide intensive instruction (phonics work, comprehension skills, and specific reading strategies). At this table, we follow our reading program curriculum. We use the program Project Read, which allows for phonics and comprehension instruction.

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elementary reading

EdMark/Vocab Station:

EdMark is a sight word program for students who have not been successful with phonics-based programs. It is highly repetitive and provides end of unit assessments. EdMark includes an assessment book (great for data collection), a workbook, a picture match, stories, homework, and spelling. I love this reading program since I have seen it really help some of my students who have been nonreaders. EdMark has two levels (Level 1 and 2). Students need one-to-one instruction while using this program since it is highly individualized.

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During my student teaching, I used the phonics program Fundations and Lively Letters. I also incorporate some cool spelling tricks.

Independent Poster/Manipulative Center:

At this station, I have students practice the skills I just taught independently or to review skills already taught earlier in the year. At times, I need to help my students if they are struggling, but I like to give them time to try a skill on their own (after guided instruction at the teacher table). I use different colored post-it notes for each group that matches the color of their individualized reading boxes. This helps me know what each group has accomplished at this station. I have several anchor charts that focus on each skill (such as summarizing, comparing and contrasting, making inferences, cause and effect…etc). In this picture, I featured my story element poster since it is one that I always start the year with.

In this center, I provide leveled books and different follow up activities (such as writing a summary, asking and answering questions, and writing about their favorite part). In addition, I am very intentional about structuring and modeling how to “stop and think” while reading. Most students typically read without stopping and asking questions. By giving clear guidelines such as stopping after every paragraph or every 2-3 pages in a book, I find that my students are starting to build healthy reading habits that can be transferred during their independent reading time later in the day. As seen in the pictures below, I leave instructions and self-assessments so students can run this station on their own.

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At times, I also utilizes manipulatives (such as matching games and centers in a bag) from LakeShore or ReallyGoodStuff.

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Spelling/Vocabulary Center:

At this station, students practice their spelling and vocabulary words. I have students write words in their notebooks, build words with magnets or blocks, write the word in a sentence, or write a story/song.

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In a previous post, I outlined various ways to practice spelling words. I use these ideas for homework and in class.

Technology Center:

In my school, we utilize the following reading programs: Achieve3000 Raz Kids, and Reading Eggs. Here, I took pictures of the program Achieve3000. I appreciate that each of these reading programs have accommodations such as a read-aloud option, vocabulary help, and extended time to complete each activity. In addition, I recommend the following online reading websites.

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Student Run Centers:

A clear structure is very important when setting up centers. I typically do not change the routine so my students can independently do each center. At the end of each center, my students clap to get the other groups attention and self-assess their own learning. I provide objective cards at each station and then students ask each other what they did well and what they need to continue to work on. We clap again and the students at the teacher table say “please move to the next station”.

In a post coming to this blog soon, I will share more pictures of my objectives cards that my students use to self-assess after each center rotation. Eventually, I would love for my students to think of the objective and benchmarks on their own, but for now, this is a guided structure that I utilize to ensure content vocabulary, reflection, and accurate assessment of their time at each center.

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Comment below to share your center/small group advice. What challenges do you experience when implementing centers? What systems/structures could you share with others? Ideas and reflection help us all grow so your thoughts are greatly appreciated!

Reading Websites for Parents and Teachers

A lot of parents ask me ways their child can practice reading at home. Below is a list of reading resources shared by my reading specialist that supports student learning in school and at home. I have used a lot of these resources. My personal favorite for teachers is Readworks.

Reading Comprehension: Read All About It!

With the start of the school year around the corner, I always love to research new teaching strategies and skills I can incorporate into my classroom for the following year. My main research focus this year is how to increase comprehension within the classroom environment.

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Below, are some of the best resources I have found for teachers and parents when it comes to understanding the word “comprehension” and how we can best support our children.

  1. At a basic level, providing graphic organizers can help students organize their thoughts and questions. I prefer graphic organizers with lines since spacing can be an issue for a lot of students.
  2. Students should make connections with the text. Simple prompts such as “What does this remind you of?” “Has something like this ever happen to you before?” can help students connect the dots and remember more details after they are done reading a passage.
  3. Students need to make a habit of asking more questions as they read. This helps create a purpose for reading as well as an interest. I do something in my classroom called “Stop and Ask”. After one paragraph, students need to generate a question about what they just read. This helps a lot of students reread the passage and create discussion.
  4. Students also need to dissect what type of question is being asked of them. According to reading rockets, there are four different types of questions. Please see the image below.
  5. Lastly, students should feel your excitement about reading. Decoding and comprehending texts is hard, and teachers and parents need to be constant cheerleaders. We should model out loud how we want our children to approach literature by stopping, asking questions, visualizing, and making  connections with the text.

Here are some additional resources for further research:

*http://www.readingrockets.org/helping/target/comprehension

*https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/partnering-with-childs-school/instructional-strategies/6-tips-for-helping-your-child-improve-reading-comprehension#slide-1

*http://www.benchmarkeducation.com/best-practices-library/comprehension-strategies.html

Four different types of questions: (courtesy of reading rockets)

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Story Elements

When reading, students need to think about the different elements that make up a typical story. Here is a poster we use when we do a read aloud or read a story in a small group. Students can write right on the poster or write on post-it notes. This poster uses the images found in the reading and writing program, Framing Your Thoughts, which is created by Project Read. The graphic symbols remind students of the different elements found in a story.

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Back-to-School Highlights

I find the first week of school to be one of the most exciting parts of the year. Teachers are fresh, students are ready to learn, and the upcoming year is filled with endless possibilities. I wanted to highlight some of my favorite activities my classroom participated in during the first week of school.

This year, I decided to start each day with a morning meeting. I am following the responsive classroom approach, which outlines the morning meeting time with a greeting, sharing time, an activity, and a morning message. My kids and I have loved this time to connect! I am using Roxann Kriete’s Morning Meeting book to guide my practice.

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My first homework assignment was for students to create a “Me Bag”. This gave them something to share during our morning meeting the second day of school. Students generally feel comfortable talking about things they like and activities they are good at. Students brought in gymnastic medals, dance shoes, toy cars, pictures, and special monuments bought while traveling.

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Next, we talked about how we wanted our classroom to run for the year. Together, we created “the great classmate is” chart shown below. Students in higher grades can write their ideas and children in lower grades can draw pictures of the words written on the chart. We had students drawing people being responsible, helping others, and saying kind words to others. After we completed the chart, we acted out different scenarios in which students could practice being a great classmate. The next day, a student in our class had the opportunity to do one of the scenarios we acted out the day before. It was a great moment for all!

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During our professional days before starting the official school year, our administration emphasized the importance of goal-setting. My classroom used BrainPop’s “setting goals” video to introduce what a goal was and how to set a goal. I had to break down each SMART step for my students, but felt it was a good video to help my students set their own goals for the year.

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One of the goals for our classroom this year is to think before we speak. Our classroom talked about the importance of good communication and speech. I posted this acronym on a bulletin board close to my desk to help guide all of our talking for the year. This “think before you speak” practice is helpful when doing partner or group work, and creates a safe and friendly classroom environment for all.

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Another importance aspect of a great classroom is putting up functional posters and schedules that guide student learning. The “I love reading” bulletin board in my classroom outlines what great readers do, highlights our small group schedule which will eventually showcase our different stations and has a poster that records how many books each student will, in time, read throughout the month. During our goal-setting activity, my students’ individual goals are to read between 8-12 books by September 30th. To help achieve this goal, we are using our “We love reading” chart to record the number of books each student reads in class and at home.

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We have had a great first week and I am looking forward to learning with my students throughout this school year. I am thankful for all the ideas I was able to pull from the internet and hope this post can guide your second week of teaching! Thanks as always for reading. 🙂

Teaching the 5 Literary Elements

“Plot, Character, Conflict, Theme, Setting…” An interactive Prezi presentation that teaches the five literary elements through style and song.

Recommended Use: 3rd to 8th grade (Applicable in high school for some students/settings)

 

Other video resources can be found on BrainPop.

Top Disability Sites for 2014

With the end of the year approaching, I thought I would share my favorite blogs/sites of 2014. For people who are interested in learning more about disabilities (latest research, ideas, personal testimonies, and stories); here is a list of some sites to check out.

1.http://ablersite.org (Sara Hendred: co-founder of the Accessible Icon Project)

2. http://disabilityvisibilityproject.com (Interview of people with disabilities)

3. http://letterstothrive.tumblr.com (Features women with disabilities writing to their younger selves)

4. http://carlysvoice.com/home (Girl with autism who shares personal experiences and stories)

**Recommendations 2 and 3 based on sites mentioned on http://ablersite.org.

A Shared Vision of Access

The president of my school, Dr. Michael Lindsay, recently wrote an article for the Huffington Post commenting on The Accessible Icon Project and Beyond Disabilities Week, the focus week I hosted at my college. He explained his understanding of  “shared vision” and wrote how Gordon College  from its beginning has always been a place that valued access and opportunity.

The recent focus week has generated a lot of conversation that concentrates on how society views individuals with disabilities. These conversations, which have been informally held in the cafeteria and dorm rooms, have also taken an academic approach through various research papers presented in class. Many professors have also started hosting conversations in their classrooms and have been assigning reading materials that get students to think about access, ability, and disability within the context of education and society.

Please join the conversation by reading my President’s article here: A Shared Vision of Access.

 

The Accessible Icon Project on The Neighborhood Writing Alliance

I was recently asked to write a guest blog post for the Neighborhood Writing Alliance, a blog based in Chicago. The blog aims to  provide opportunities to provoke dialogue, build community, and provoke change. My piece on The Accessible Icon Project was just published today. Feel free to read it here.

Website of the Month Choice: EveryBody-an artifact history of Disabilities in America

A professor from Gordon College recommended this new website: http://everybody.si.edu. This website aims to collect the history of various people with disabilities who have been present throughout American History. Since people with disabilities have been stigmatized in years past, many stories have not made it into history textbooks because of the person’s physical or mental condition. This site’s goal is to save those stories and make them available for the general public. The website is even available in Spanish. Be sure to take a look at this month’s Website of the Month Award!