The Difference of a Center Driven Classroom

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Let's first talk about the set up of Kindergarten classrooms. Some have hopped on board with the alternative seating but mostly, it's tables and chairs which are perfectly conducive to worksheets and crafts. 

You don't have the multiple top sellers on TPT cranking out tons of No-Prep Printables (nicer sounding word for WORKSHEETS) if we aren't a little worksheet crazy in our Kindergarten classrooms. 

I'll admit it, worksheets are easy. They are perfect for assessing and data collection as well as filling extra time you may have here and there. Sub plans??? You mean a ton of busy work? Pretty much. This prepares them for what's ahead because let's face it, the state just wants to see standardized test scores improving.

However, a center driven classroom that is hands on looks much different and I made that switch from my first year to my second year and my kids scores completely changed.

Center Driven means NO worksheets besides maybe some recording sheets or journaling that goes along with the center. These classrooms are nosier and can seem chaotic to those that used to children sitting at their seats all the time.

My first year of teaching was mostly whole group teaching with song and dance, crafting, the occasional centers on "fun Friday," and worksheets. Now, at the end of that first year I had maybe 5 readers and that was it.

 Now, looking at my second year, it was completely flipped. Centers daily! Sometimes twice as that was the goal, whole group teaching with song and dance, morning messages, and MAYBE a single craft each week. No worksheets. I ended the year with maybe 5 students that COULDN'T read but were definitely on their way. Not only that, but my kids had the highest reading scores in my grade level based on my STAR 360 assessments. Talk about a huuuuge difference. I completely believe it's because of having a center driven classroom with CHOICE. 

Both worksheet driven and center driven have their pros and cons IMO but I can tell you that engaging activites are the key to learning and I have never found that worksheets are more engaging than a center. While I'm not trying to talk anyone into ditching the worksheets in favor of centers ( or am I? Muahaha) I do think that you should consider adding in centers to your classroom and you may never go back. 

One of the main reasons centers work for me is that they have a playful feel. Play is so important to development at this age and children really miss out on that if they are sitting at a desk doing worksheets or crafts all day. If you make your center feel like games then the kids will be much more engaged. Offering incentives for working on their stations properly and effectively will make them more motivated to record what they are doing for you. 

How do you deal with th fighting over centers and sharing??? 
Well it's easy. They don't share. I give each child their OWN center. Let me correct that... I let each child CHOOSE their own center. Now there are cases when a child isn't capable of working by themselves and I will give them a partner. There is also the ESL learner that benefits from the social interaction and I will give them a partner. As for everyone else, no partners. I've tried the 3-4 in a small group center and at this age I do not find that it works well at all. The point of this is academic, not social. We can work on social skills during other times such as morning meeting. 

Yes, a center for each child is a lot. I've worked my rear end off making this happen. I actually have 40 tubs(different centers), 4 word wall centers, 4 listening centers, 2 classroom computers and a classroom library for literacy choices.  Math is 24 baskets of activites, 4-10 frame centers, and sensory/graphing tub, and my 2 classroom computers.

I didn't accumulate this stuff over years and years. I have only been teaching 2 years. What I did do was take the advice of my principal. 

She told me "this is your craft, perfect it."

I have truly taken this words to heart and am driven to be the best teacher I can be. So that being said, I have invested a TON of time and effort in my classroom. Printing and laminating centers constantly but I will keep them forever and it's an investment that will pay off as I use them year after year. When I get overwhelmed I just take a break. 

How do they actually WORK...

CHOICE- I let them decide what they want to do based on our center wheel. I got the idea from a fellow teacher and this is a game changer. Year 1 I was more of a worksheet/craft teacher and I had a time more behavior problems and less engaged children. Year 2 our classroom has been center based and kid directed as they are in charge of what they do and this has made a huge difference. 

Year 3 will consist of perfecting my small group instruction and I can't wait to see what my children can achieve this coming year. 
2 comments on "The Difference of a Center Driven Classroom"
  1. Hi! I love your article. I am in my 2nd year in Kindergarten and I wNt to make some major changes. My issue is that I have 1/2 day classes. Booooooo! I struggle to fit everything in. Do you have any suggestions? Also, do you follow daily 5 or other reading program?

    1. We have a Saxon Phonics program and have not implemented although, our district is pushing for that. I wouldn't be surprised if we have to do it next year. I don't know enough about it to figure out how to build that in yet. My schedule now is Writer's Workshop, Saxon Phonics, Thematic Reading lesson, Centers/small group. I get 45-1hr of center time that I can use for small group. If I had to guess, I would just build my daily five activities into centers but I have a listening center and a library center already so it may just take a little tweaking. Good luck!