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Centers or Independent Reading or...

read bookI was in a team meeting, new to the team, when I heard, “Learning centers will help your students focus!”  WIth a  minute left to the meeting, I cringed but chose not to respond!

That comment triggered memories of endless folders and ceaseless record-keeping nestled beside happy memories of Lucy Calkins saying, “Let them read!” It dredged up memories of administrator dictates to implement centers and fluency centers that seemed to help. So, I challenged my initial reaction and did a review of the research.

I landed on Mark Pennington’s site.  He writes books and articles about why you SHOULD NOT use centers citing the time teachers spend creating as well as the time they take away from students’ reading. Behavior problems can escalate and it is hard to differentiate! Pennington concludes that Independent reading is the best way to practice strategies, build fluency, develop confidence, provide choice! BUT THEN, I realized Pennington also writes about why you SHOULD use centers!  He mentioned their value for fluency practice as well as for grammar and vocabulary work.  

tow kids

I then revisited Debbie Dilller’s boundless work using centers for classroom management and learning.  There is no question she advocates centers as a solution to most learning situations!

I revisited the writing and research of Marilyn Friend who advocates that “center” based teaching is a powerful model for classrooms with co-teachers!

Then, I found an article by Jo Worthy, What are the rest of the students doing? Literacy workstations in two first grade classrooms.  They found limited research on the use of centers, so Worthy and her partners did a small study of teachers using Diller’s models. They found that both new and experienced teachers struggled with structuring station time, providing meaningful tasks, and keeping students engaged. They also found that challenged readers were less productive and concluded that if you use centers, teachers should be closely monitoring and taking notes, NOT doing guided reading!  Purposeful reading is best during guided reading times.

I then landed on Tim Shanahan’s post, Do learning centers and seatwork improve reading instruction? He writes about how the gains from independent reading are small and students learn best with close teacher guidance in guided reading groups and in conferences.  He concludes, “More learning comes when kids are interacting with others; not working by themselves.”

After a week immersed in an ongoing debate I concluded: Centers are not the answer, but may have a place in classrooms as long as they do not take the place of independent reading!  

What do you think?

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