You might be interested to know …the response of a child who is asked by his or her parents:
How might our kids respond?
This can be outrageously unfair especially considering the effort teachers have to make to plan and implement learning engagements with their students in every learning discipline. As an automatic response of parents, they tend to ask the teachers for the reasons why their children respond this way.
As teachers commit themselves to always taking parents’ inquiries as critical feedback on their teaching, they take the responsibility to further improve on their craft and most likely the questions in their heads now would be:
- Why can’t children explicitly explain to their parents the things they do in class?
- How can I help my kids, from the class tasks, make meaning more relevant from their own perspective?
Inspired by reading the Book of Robyn and Jeni Wilson on “How to succeed with Learning Centres”, it is important that learning centres be planned and structured so student progress and participation is closely monitored by the teacher.
What is a learning centre?
- A classroom that has been set up for learning centres is one in which a number of different activities are being done simultaneously by individual or small groups.
- There is no one ‘right’ way to set up and run learning centres.
- There is not a ‘fixed’ recipe for classroom organization.
- The variations can be extensive and decisions about grouping and organization are best made by the classroom teacher – who knows the students and what is manageable within the constraints of specific classroom and school curriculum requirements.
- Teachers can follow models that might suit a purpose within one classroom.
- Are not a total program;
- Can be used in many ways in any subject area within an integrated curriculum topic;
- Can be adapted for different levels and teaching styles;
- Facilitate independent work but are far more than a free choice of activity for students;
- Are driven by the purpose of the tasks and the context;
- Can be teacher and/or student designed, selected and assessed.
The Role of the Student
- Students are positioned at the centre of the learning;
- Students take a very active role in the learning process and is not a passive recipient of information;
- Students are more likely to be working with other classmates on tasks away from the direct instruction of the teacher;
- Students need to take responsibility for their own learning needs;
- They need to be able to access other students or resources to solve problems and complete their work;
- Learning centres are based on the Constructivist Theory of Learning in which students use their skills to link new information to existing knowledge.
What do learning centres look like?
Learning centres look like different in different classrooms. These have been organised into four categories to help differentiate between and to assist in selection:
- Independent Contract Work
- Teachers have developed and negotiated a set of possible activities that could be done by students.
- In conjunction with the teacher, the student identifies the tasks they will complete along with an agreed timeline.
- A classroom operating on such system would look like a class full of independent workers
- The teacher would be operating on a one-to-one basis
- It may be appropriate for students to be given options to complete some tasks with a partner or small group
- Alternatively, they may be required to complete their own work and consult with others.
Samples of Independent Contract Work
- This type of learning centre requires a set of tasks that will be undertaken by all members of the class on a rotational basis.
- A specific time is set aside for groups to complete each task.
- The rotation can occur in quick succession on one day – for example, each group completing four 15-minute tasks in a span of an hour.
Sample of Rotational Tasks
Multiple Choice tasks
- Offering a number of prepared activities at one time where a number of different tasks may have been prepared and set up in different parts of the room.
- Students can choose which tasks they will complete, knowing that they may not be able to complete them all.
- Different tasks may be designed to cater for particular learning style preferences, for example, tasks that require musical skills or creative construction.
- It is important for the teacher to monitor individuals and ensure that all modes are developed over time.
- Encourage students to select from a full range of activities, rather than just those their strongest skills as preference.
Sample of Multiple Choice Tasks
Point System Tasks
- This type of learning the student aims to complete activities worth a specified value.
- The target value maybe determined by the teacher and/or student.
- The teacher gives each task a value, for example, points score or star rating according to its complexity and time requirement.
- They can cover a range of subject areas, they could be completed at various times during the day as negotiated by the teacher.
- It is important to provide a selection of tasks in terms of content and complexity.
- The tasks can be completed independently or cooperatively.
Samples of Point System Tasks
Sample # 1
Sample # 2
Various elements of each can be combined. For example, multiple choice activities can be used with a point system.
The Role of the Teacher
- The role of a teacher within learning centres is not a fixed one, but it is central to effective learning.
- The teacher cannot simply set the groups to work and then leave students to it.
- The teacher is fundamental in planning, implementing and evaluating learning centres.
- Like students, teachers will be active participants in the classrooms where learning centres operate.
- Different types of learning centres call for different teaching skills and strategies.
The Teacher, as the Planner
- The teacher needs to prepare for effective learning experiences. They need to cater for a range of learning styles, various levels of ability, effective use of available resources and different degrees of learner independence.
- The teacher must align the activities offered in learning centres with the desired key understandings and outcomes of the curriculum, keeping in mind the specific needs of the students.
- By systematically planning a range of learning centre activities, the teacher makes clear and comprehensive curriculum decisions.
- This generates a natural flow and connectedness of learning.
- One way to ensure that activities are meaningful, appropriate and closely linked to the major classroom objective is to plan using a proforma.
Sample Planning Sheet for Teachers
The Teacher as the Teacher
- This means that a teacher should work with groups or individuals to ask carefully considered questions so that students can develop their own understandings.
- Learning centre tasks need to be designed so that students can be actively involved in constructing their own learning under the guidance of the teacher.
- It may be that one of the groups is assigned as the ‘teaching group.’ This group works intensively with the teacher on the task. It is important that the rest of the class understands that the teacher is generally not available for them during this time. Some teachers like to have a sign places table indicating that they are unavailable. The other groups will be completing tasks that rely on independence.
The Teacher, as the Supervisor
- As with any classroom activity, it is essential that the teacher monitors the activities of all students. If working intensively with one group, it is necessary for the teacher to be able to see all groups in order to monitor behaviour.
- The teacher takes a leading role in the teaching group, and uses this opportunity to teach new work or monitor understandings and keep assessment records for the students in that group.
- The teacher can be at the side of the group where a clear view of all groups is possible over the teaching group.
The Teachers, as the Assessor
- The use of learning centres is an effective way to make on-going assessment more manageable.
- By using one student group as the group for which assessment will be the focus, the teacher can monitor learning in a detailed and highly individual way.
- Several strategies for assessing students and keeping effective records are detailed in our assessment policy.
The Teacher, as the Reflector
- The important role of the teacher is to lead class discussion in reflecting on the activities that have been carried out.
- This debriefing gives the teacher invaluable feedback. During a share time, the teacher can obtain information about the value, length, degree of difficulty, etc. of each task and also provide advanced information to students who have not yet completed the tasks in the other learning centres.
The Teacher, as the Negotiator
- Negotiation is involved in the implementation of learning centres. It is important that students feel they have been consulted about the content and management of at least some tasks.
- Ultimately, teachers have the most responsibility for classroom arrangements and, therefore, negotiation will vary depending on the situations.
Common Characteristics of Learning Centres
- Students work on independent or semi-independent tasks
- Students may work individually but are usually in small groups
- Some form of choice and/or negotiation is usually involved
- Discovery learning is a component
- Teachers are able to work intensively with at least one group of students
Benefits of Learning Centres
In a nutshell, they improve student learning, which is after all, the core purpose of everything we do in our classrooms.
- Learning centres provide activity choices.
- They provide a social setting within which learning can occur.
- Learning centres encourage independence.
- Learning centres motivate students and lead to real engagement.
By Ms. Edina Araneta-Sarenas, Primary Principal (email@example.com)
Sekolah Global Indo-Asia, Batam