Join me in a blog post series and learn how to effectively incorporate the science of reading into your literacy centers.
After my first four years of teaching, our district cut back on Reading Recovery teachers who were assigned to specific school sites and switched over to literacy coaches. Then, The Common Core Standards were adopted. So, by the time I started my sixth year of teaching, we had a MAJOR shift change in the way we approached and taught phonics in K-2. Our district coaches started talking about phonics, graphemes, phonemic awareness, onset and rime, syllables, comprehension, vocabulary, and so on. They developed wonderful PowerPoint presentations and provided training on how to present the materials to students. It has been a major help in teaching students to read.
With this shift to focusing on phonics and foundational skills I needed to reassess what I was doing in my literacy centers. I needed to look at what was working, what wasn’t working, and what classroom management strategies I needed to adjust so that I could make my literacy centers effective, engaging, and efficient. You know, basically what would give me the most bang for my buck!
Why Literacy Centers?
When you start literacy centers in your classroom, it’s important to know your “why.” Why are you running centers? What is their purpose? Small groups allow me to provide:
- targeted, small group instruction to my students in reading and writing.
- guided practice with phonics, phonemic awareness, etc. especially for those students who are struggling.
- opportunities to foster independence and responsibility (yes, really!).
- time for students to practice already-taught skills.
Why I Do Not Do Traditional Centers
If traditional centers work for your students, that’s great! Everyone has a different way of running their classroom. However, I have not found traditional centers effective in my classroom for a few reasons.
- We used to ring a bell for students to switch groups, students would line up, and then they would need to walk to the next group to start the next activity. Inevitably, this did take some time away from instruction every time students needed to clean up, line up, and switch groups.
- Students would switch groups whether or not they were finished with the worksheet or activity because we needed to move on to the next group.
- All small groups received the same amount of small group time, again, whether or not they were finished.
First, let’s chat about classroom schedules.
Your district or state may have a specified number of minutes you are required to teach certain subjects. Always, always start with that information when developing your schedule.
Below is just ONE model and not the only way. Do what works for you and your students.
Here’s a sample schedule for a literacy block:
With this schedule, I can spend about 12-15 minutes with each group depending upon my groups. You may need more or less time depending on the number of students and your classroom demographics.
Next we’ll look at how to group students.
Assessments and Grouping Students
Your first steps for setting up your groups is to assess your students. Again, your district and / or state may have requirements on what assessments you need to give to your students. If your district does not have a set test, I highly recommend the DIBELS assessments. These assessments provide you with a thorough understanding of the areas in which your students struggle. Depending on class size, you may have four or five or even more groups based on abilities.
During the Literacy Centers I usually have five different groups of students based on ability, not on a specific reading level. Our district used to use DRA levels to place students. I stopped that practice a few years ago as I noticed those levels did not completely correlate with the information I was receiving from our DIBELS tests.
After you have analyzed the information from your assessments, place your students by ability- what they can and cannot do. Can four of your students read fluently at end of year grade level AND understand what they read? Great! They might be ready to work on more advanced skills. Maybe you have 2 students who still need to learn all their letters and sounds. Those students should be grouped together. Maybe you have 7 students who are stuck on blending and cannot move from c-a-t to “cat.” Those students should be grouped together.
This Blending Common Formative Assessment tool is a great tool to use to progress monitor blending.
It’s important to note:
These groups are FLEXIBLE. Students may change groups because they have mastered skills. Progress monitor your students and note their progress toward meeting skills (and standards).
When your groups are set, it’s time to plan out how to structure your literacy center time and what materials you will need for your literacy centers.
In my next post, I’ll be discussing the book, The Daily Five and how I implement some of the strategies from this book in my classroom.