You’ve probably heard before that centers are amazing tools to use in the classroom, especially if you frequent this blog. If you’re a first time reader, welcome…you should know centers are amazing tools. Now you might be rolling your eyes and thinking, “No they are not! I have tried them and they don’t work!” To that I would say, “Yes, they are!” Overcoming obstacles in learning centers is simple as long as you stop that stinkin’ thinkin’ and start making it simple! How do you do that? Alexis Atwood, a third grade math teacher, broke down what she did wrong and what she needed to do to fix it.
Meet the Teacher Who Overcame Obstacles in Learning Centers
Alexis Atwood wasn’t always a teacher. At first she worked in agriculture but didn’t feel like she was doing what she loved. She had always wanted to become a teacher and found the drive so great that she took a significant pay cut to finally become one eleven years ago. Alexis became a teacher the “nontraditional” way by getting alternative certification in Texas. Currently she teaches 3rd grade math and uses learning centers in her classroom all the time, but it wasn’t always easy. Alexis found overcoming obstacles in learning centers difficult until she discovered the Learning Centers Made Easy Master Class. This is what she learned.
1st Obstacle: Small Group Instruction is Only for Lower Elementary
Alexis, like many teachers, had a huge misconception about learning centers. She thought learning centers were just for lower elementary students because she was focused on the activities. She couldn’t find anything when she sat down to find something that would work for her third graders on TPT or Pinterest. All she found were activities that were appropriate for kindergarten and first grade. These activities just weren’t rigorous enough. Her third graders were way beyond this! In her mind, if she wasn’t always doing something state test level of rigor, it was a waste of time! Then she discovered the solution.
What’s the Fix?
Finding something that works for you can be hard. However, Alexis’s Master Class helped her find the ultimate solution. When Alexis found printable and digital centers that had everything she needed to be successful, her problems were solved. The activities she discovered were innovative, the right amount of rigor, and predictable enough to create independence. She actually signed up for the membership program which gave her resources, activities, and time with me as a support system!
2nd Obstacle: The Non-Teacher Centered Centers Were Busy Work
When Alexis first started with centers, she had her small group instruction which is great! But it wasn’t what she wanted them to be. All of her other centers were games or math facts which are like busy work. She would also put rigorous activities in the centers that her students just couldn’t do without always interrupting her time with the small group. As a result, students were off-task and not getting as much done as they should have been. This creates a distraction for students who are at the teacher center.
On top of all of that, she would spend hour after hour getting the next centers ready. She had to cut, glue, laminate, and more every week! She had tried four or five different systems with various activities from Pinterest and it would be great until late January or early February then it would all fall apart. This was an ongoing issue for her no matter what she tried until she found her framework and a system that worked!
Establishing a System to Overcome Obstacles
When Alexis realized that she was re-inventing the wheel every single week, she knew there had to be a better way. She had to find something and stick with it, and she did! With the help of the Learning Centers Made Easy Masterclass and Membership, she was able to organize all of her centers for the year. This made being ready every single week beyond simple!
With these activities, she didn’t have to teach how to do them every single day to students because they followed a pattern. They reviewed important skills that weren’t always overly rigorous but were necessary to complete the more rigorous problems. Now, she has everything organized and ready to go BEFORE she leaves her classroom on FRIDAY! What? No weekend work! If she doesn’t happen to get it done, she can come in on Monday and be ready in five minutes with the system she has set up! Amazing right?
A bonus “fix” is perfect for all of you who are teaching hybrid or completely virtual right now. Because everything is organized and ready to rock, it’s easy to make all of your centers digital (even in math!). If your students are at home or you’re at home, your students can do the same centers you are doing in your classroom because everything can be uploaded. This also helps with creating a socially distanced classroom.
3rd Obstacle: Too Much Too Soon
Overcoming obstacles in learning centers often comes down to the question of rigor. When we are using learning centers, we often think we need to have a ton of rigor. This was the same thought process Alexis had. When she first started doing centers, she put activities in there that focused on a skill the students had learned that week or even the week before. This is not what learning centers are for!
Spiraling Back Instead of Jumping Forward
When Alexis realized overcoming this obstacle in her learning centers was easy, her centers became way more successful! The purpose of centers is to enrich and review material. Therefore, you want to spiral back and review concepts that you might feel like your past, but they are essential for taking your students to the next level of mastery. For example, if you’re teaching fourth grade and you worked on division three weeks ago, you could put this in your centers. This reinforces the skill and saves you time from reviewing it again when the skill is reused. Plus, when students know what they are supposed to be doing and how to do it, they can self-check their work (a bonus of many of the activities included in the bundles), and they aren’t always interrupting your small group work.
All of this is one of the reasons math and literacy centers are great for test prep! Therefore, you should never be putting information into your centers that your students haven’t been working on for at least two weeks. You can learn more about this in the Learning Centers Made Easy Master Class.
What Happens When You Overcome Obstacles in Learning Centers?
Overcoming obstacles in learning centers made Alexis’s life easier for sure. The end result is really what is amazing. Not only did Alexis benefit, but her students did too.
Students Get Further
Students get further for so many reasons. One, they are getting quality small group instruction. Without the constant interruptions and questions from other centers, your small group is getting your full attention all the time. This allows them to get further in the curriculum. In fact, Alexis’s students are currently two weeks ahead of where they were last year at this time (before the world fell apart). In addition, you can easily differentiate for students who need to level up or down because you have everything organized and ready to go!
Get Time Back
You get time back! Think about how much time you spend scouring Pinterest and falling into a rabbit hole. Instead of doing that all afternoon on Sunday, go to your center area, select the center box you need, grab the corresponding activities, and peace out of there. This is a five-minute process! Think of all that time you could spend doing literally anything you love!
Create Less Stress
Because you have all this time, all this organized, and all of this solid instruction time, you will be less stressed! You will know your students are getting what they need to succeed on your state tests. There is power in knowing. You’ll feel better knowing you’ve overcame obstacles in your learning centers, and your students are reaping all the benefits.
Overcoming obstacles in learning centers isn’t easy. If you’ve been pulling your hair out, struggling to make it work, stop reinventing the wheel and sign up for the Learning Centers Made Easy Master Class. This will teach you how to Keep It Stickin’ Simple (KISS) and make centers work for you in your classroom.
Until Next Time…
Keep Being Educational Rock Stars