Friday, August 7, 2015

Choice Centers

Yes, you read the title correctly, my students get to choose each day where they go for centers; literacy and math.  I started choice literacy centers about 4 years ago, about the same time I kicked off the Daily 5.

Now, I had a fair deal of trepidation when I gave up my control.  What if Johnny only wants to go to the listening center and work on sight words?????  He won't get enough phonics  or writing practice!!!!!!  I put a few things in place to make sure this was not an issue (for the most part).
  1. Occasional requirements-  Every once in a while I would tell the students they had to make it to the writing center during the next 3 days.  This still gave them choice of when they were going to go, but I made sure to have that writing assignment from them by the end of the three days.
  2. Training- I had to do lots of training about how to use centers effectively.  We talked about what might happen if you only went to one center all the time.  I referred to the centers like a puzzle.  You need all the pieces to be a successful reader.  
  3. Student feedback- I encouraged them to talk to me about how they felt about specific centers.  "This one is too hard for me still.  I don't like this one because _____.  This one has gotten boring."  Yes, I am even happy when a kid can admit the center is boring.  They are so many ways to teach certain skills, I have no problem changing out the center.  My goal is to have them reading, and they are going to be more excited about it if they are excited about their centers.  
  4. Change out centers often- If you see there is a center that no one is going to ask the kiddos why.  It may be too hard for most of them, it could be too easy, it could just be something they feel like they have done a million times.  Get to the root of why the center isn't working and make adjustments.  (Also I am a little sneaky in this area.  If the writing center is not getting enough traffic from my kiddos, I put out stamps, problem solved.  When the sight word center is at a lull I put out silly reading glasses.)  
  5. Particular student requests- (This is similar to the occasional requirements but it is on an individual level.)  It usually goes something like this...(in a one on one conversation) "Johnny, I see that you could use some work with sight words.  You know your friend Bill is pretty strong there, but he could use some work in blending, which you are really good at.  Can you and Bill come up with a plan to spend your next two centers working together at sight words and the CVC center?"  The kiddos that I have done this with love it, maybe because they realize I notice their strengths and weaknesses, or because I've come up with a plan just for them.  
So that is how I maintain some control in a choice classroom. :)

Now here's the fun part; how students select centers.  As the kids were coming in from the playground and getting water we would start the process of picking centers.  In a room with a smart board this could be done with the pen on the board.  I didn't happen to have a smart board so we did ours old school; kids on my teacher laptop mouse.

There were 4 different slides- one for each center rotation.  Every day each student would come to reading group, they would have to read to self daily and also get on an ipad daily.  (I was fortunate enough to have 10 ipads).  (The ipad part is not included in the sample below.)

Here is a glimpse at the screen the students saw each day.  (My student's center choice chart had names instead of numbers).  We would click on a number from the right and move it to one of the colorful rows.  (In order top to bottom- reading group, read to self, word work, listen to reading, buddy reading, writing center).  Once all centers had been selected I played the slideshow.  It was projected nice and big on the board during each center rotation.  I could, with a quick glance, make sure everyone was where they were supposed to be.  To move to center 2 we just simply clicked the mouse once and center 2 was projected.  If you are interested in this chart it is available in my TPT store, just click on one of the images below.

Here's an example of what this might look like in action.
reading group- students 1, 14, 17, 7 and 19, read to self- students 2, 13, 5  and 15 etc.  For buddy reading I put the two kids names' who are reading together closer together so it was an easy visual.

So there you have it!  How I keep some control in a student choice center system.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.  There are definitely clear advantages to both systems.  What center rotation system do you use?  What makes it your favorite?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

No More Tears- First Day of School

I am linking up with the Undercover Classroom and lots of other great teachers about Tried and True First Day of School Activities.  The linky party will be available starting Sunday, August 2. 

When I started teaching I was ready to get right to work and get those Kindergarten students tracing their names.  They walked in and on their table were neatly printed papers with everyone's name on them.  I thought it was brilliant starting the year off with them already working.  What I didn't take into account was how overwhelming the first day of school was for these little ones...  A new situation, a new person in charge, new classmates, no more parents.  (Enough to make a grown-up nervous.) And on top of that I told these unfortunate kids to do something academic. 

So as you can assume year after year I had at least one crier on the first day of school.  (Now people, I teach Kindergarten, tears don't bother me.  But the boo hoo crying so loud that people from outside the classroom walk in to check if everything was okay- that child has an amazing pair of lungs crying was just too much for me.)

I was talking to a veteran teacher a few years ago and she said something to the effect of, there will be plenty of time for academics, in fact the less nervous they are the quicker you truly have their full attention for learning.  So do something fun when they walk in.

/This teacher suggested play-doh.  If you don't care for play-doh have them do something else, independently.  You can verify dismissal plans with parents, take attendance and all that other first day stuff while the kids are playing.

I started doing play-doh the first day of school 3 years ago.  And on the first day of school my classroom for 3 years has been tear free!