Are Centers Growing Up?

Center based learning, yes that old standby primary school philosophy, may happily be creeping its way into the middle school environment.  Leading its potential for adoption is Columbia Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project’s content based literacy learning, which centers on “centers”! And, if history repeats itself, whatever TCRWP models, for good reason, school’s adopt.

Last week I implemented a center based learning experience, to introduce students to next week’s visiting author, Paul Janeczko. I doubled the tables in the library into three larger tables, which hosted three different center based activities.

  1. Answering questions using Paul Janezcko’s website, to learn about the poet in addition to experience navigating a website.
  2. Three different coding activities, (in light of the author’s book  Top Secret), using Paul’s various other  books as sources for text. Students participated in one of the three activities at this center, which included speaking in Pig Latin, Found Poetry and keyboard coding.
  3. Reader’s Theater using poems from A Foot in the Mouth. Students worked in groups reading & acting out poems for two, three or group voices. We videoed their readings with the Ipads, and the plan is to put videos in QR codes for the front of school bulletin board (So need to get this finished!).

Why it worked and why I like centers: Students were engaged and learning valuable skills. Centers are a great, gradual way for teachers to move away from teacher centered, sage on stage type practices, closer to learner centric experiences. Often teachers fear the loss of control and the possibilities for time wasted in student based learning, however, centers offer a gradual shift from control, and keep students on task. In addition, teachers realize that students do not all need to be doing the same thing at the same time in order to be productive. This may encourage teaching practices which allow for student choice and differentiated learning options. Centers allow teachers to move around the class and work with students, one-on-one, something that I see as  desperately needed and often missing in the middle school classroom.  In addition, centers seem less competitive, mainly because students are working in smaller groups.  This structure allows for differentiated work that’s not obvious to everyone, since students are working on different things at the same time.

What do you think? Do you see a place for center based learning in middle school?