Learning Centers
By
Alan Haskvitz
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Haskvitz
The use of learning centers in elementary and some middle school classrooms has been fairly well accepted as common practice although the concept does have its critics. The rationale for the concerns are related to the time element in that some classes have a set amount of minutes while other teachers have the ability to set their own limits. Secondly is the amount of time making sure students are on task and also the amount of minutes given to setting up the centers. There is also a great deal of planning involved and the funding to equip the centers must be found. By far the most telling argument against learning centers is the fact that some teachers would rather do whole class assignments and feel that the extra work and smaller group activities aren’t to their liking. Add this to the need for many more grading rubrics and you have the adding noise level small groups seem to create and you have a difficult argument to overcome.
However, to those who enjoy the idea of learning centers I recommend starting small and moving ahead as you feel the need and acquire the resources. There are upsides to this type of learning environment, however, as always, no one methodology has ever been proven to be best for every situation. Go with your instincts, talk to teachers who have already invested time and most likely their own money, in creating centers.

Types of Learning Centers

The types of learning styles are numerous from those that deal with the major styles or learning such as auditory, tactual, and visual to those centered around enrichment and a combination of the two. These centers revolve around enrichment activities that focus on the main objective of the lesson and offer a variety of ways to learn those concepts. They are best used after the class as been exposed to a the main lesson and showed some knowledge of its ingredients. Typically, the centers provide more layers to the learning and a deeper understanding of the material. In an ideal world the learning centers combine both cooperative work and individual activities. For example, created a mural as a group and a poem about what was learned from the individual.

Another type of center is based on the mastering of a fact by performing tasks directly related to that acquisition. These skill centers enable a student to see the data in a variety of ways, but also promote repetition to inculcation of the important facts. The main difference between skill and enrichment is the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning. One requires the student to take a set piece of information and create projects from that in ever expanding circles of reasoning. The other is taking a fact and working to learn that fact as it applies to the situation. There is less freedom and more structure to the latter.

A learning center that allows a student creative freedom to express themselves with a limited amount of structure as to the subject matter is worth considering. They can be set up as discovery based where the materials are provided to allow the student to find a variety of answers to a question or even to produce their own questions. These centers are easy to construct once the teacher has a handle on the students’ interests. For example, if the class is studying ancient civilizations pictures, models, building blocks, and other materials can be provided as they decide different ways to construct weapons, protect cities, dress soldiers, and even build a modern day fortified city are all possible.

Here are some centers related to Language Arts that can provide more detail: A vocabulary center; a compare and contrast center for use with reading short stories; a diary center to reflect on what has been learned or to as biography for a character[ a test writing center where students create tests for others to take, an art center where poster are created to illustrate a point of learning or advertise a book or other work; mnemonic devise center where students create ways to help them memorize facts; and a linking center where students use diagrams to link previous learning to present ones.

The key to all good learning centers is the teacher’s ability to break down the lesson into smaller parts so that the learning centers can build on the initial objective. This added to the teacher’s knowledge of the students’ interests creates more dynamic learning opportunities and more on-task behavior. But keep in mind that designing grading rubrics for activities at all these centers is very difficult and might be considered as part of a larger grading package.

Resources

A WikEd piece on Learning Centers in the Middle School Classroom is an excellent short article on the pros and cons of using these centers as well as some suggestions and possible problems. A good read for all levels.

http://wik.ed.uiuc.edu/index.php/Learning_Centers_in_the_Middle_School_Classroom

A Quality Primary Site
A primary learning center site that includes literacy station boards, a PowerPoint how to and even a variation of Bloom’s taxonomy in the form of a printable Marzano’s Level of Thinking that should be part of every teacher’s grading rubric and objectives.
http://www.catawba.k12.nc.us/c_i_resources/\
Summer%20Staff%20Development.htm
Classroom Organization and Workstations
A large link site with valuable ideas on how to arrange and use learning centers.
http://www.internet4classrooms.com/classroom_organization.htm
Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Learning Center
Some links, but mainly books on the topic from Amazon. Always check prices of these books with other sources before buying.
http://school.discoveryeducation.com/schrockguide/edlearn.html
A Teacher Created Site with Fresh Ideas for Primary and Elementary levels.
http://www.mrsmcdowell.com/centers.htm
How to Set Up Your Classroom
Ideas for all types of situations, including learning centers. Worth a quick read.
http://www.eduplace.com/rdg/res/classroom.html

Another simple site with eight rules to follow when setting up your classroom.

http://www.ehow.com/how_2055186_incorporate-learning-centers-classroom.html

What to consider before setting up the audio learning center. Includes dealing with media players, headphones, and more.

https://www.audiolinks.com/Articles/LearningCenterArticle.shtml

Sparklebox is great

This site has a variety of lessons on all areas of learning and most grade levels. Take your time and explore the many avenues that this free resource from Great Britain provides.

http://www.sparklebox.co.uk/
http://www.sparklebox2.co.uk

Interactive lessons that could be  used for computerized learning centers in many subject areas and elementary levels. Here are some examples:
http://www.pasadenaisd.org/sailon/grade3.htm
http://www.pasadenaisd.org/sailon/tech_appsK2.htm
http://www.pasadenaisd.org/sailon/grade5.htm
http://www.pasadenaisd.org/sailon/musick_5.htm

Literacy Learning Center Ideas and more
http://www.catawba.k12.nc.us/c_i_resources/literacy_links.htm
Learning Center Ideas
More detail and some creative ones, too, that use multiple intelligences.
http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/mi/implementation_sub1.html#2

Cute and free printable sites to label learning centers

http://www.bulletin-board-idea.com/center_signs.shtml

Learning circles used in an inner city classroom

These ideas can be used by all teachers. An extensive article with emphasis on cooperative learning.

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3666/is_199408/ai_n8725444

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