Sunday, February 15, 2009

No More Hand Holding

I find that the hardest lesson I've learned in my first few years of teaching is how to let the baby birds fly solo. As a teacher, we are so invested in having our students succeed, that it can be scary to let them try things on their own (because they might fail!).

The one place where I am beginning to feel more successful in this area is with the creation of literacy centers. Independent stations where students are responsible for their own rotation and completion of tasks (which they will be assessed on) gives them not only a sense of ownership, but a chance to really demonstrate their individual skills. As with the implementation of anything successful, there are helpful guidelines.

1) Set up and practice the system early. Do not wait until halfway through the year to start the centers. Students need to get into routine and expectations as early as possible. You could even practice 5 second/10 second transitions during the first day of school introductory activities.
2) Integrate information. If the literacy centers tie in to other subject matters, students will become proficient at making connections and understand the greater importance of what they are learning.
3) Get passively involved. One of the literacy centers that I often use is called "Read with the teacher." The students will see you as a part of their regular literacy time but they will still remain responsible for the work. They are required to read aloud to the teacher and generate questions that they think the teacher might use if she were to test them on the material.
4) Use interactive listening centers. When I first started using listening centers I noticed that the students were sitting passively and not attending to the information they were hearing. I think that listening centers are important for building fluency but the students need something to stimulate thinking. Now, I copy the portion of the text that they are listening to and write numbers on each page. The numbers correlate to a question that they must pause the tape and answer. This keeps them engaged and gives them a purpose for reading.
5) Culture and crafts stations! While I understand that these centers can be harder to justify educationally if they are not well executed, they can be the most meaningful learning tools out of all of them. Examples of this are: a) We read the story of Arachne and the Weaver and the students learned how to weave using "looms" and yarn. b) We read a story that took place in Vietnam and the students had to follow a recipe to create a traditional dish and use chopsticks (learned from an instructional guide) to consume it.

If you are having trouble letting go and giving students the chance to pave their own way, this solution works well and can be modified to fit any subject. The beauty of it is that students will figure things out for themselves because they'll have can't be at every station at once! ;)

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