TIPs: Creating an Effective Learning Center
Jan 30, 2014
A baker's dozen steps to creating effective learning centers that engage students in learning
By Dr. Paula A. Calabrese
Learning Centers are small areas such as a corner, an alcove, or a table or computer workstation that is set aside within a classroom where specific supplies or educational materials are stored in a way that provides easy access to students. Sometimes Learning Centers are called resource centers or work stations. The materials such as print, non-print, electronic and manipulative devices are included in Learning Centers and are designed to provide students with self-directed, differentiated learning to target and remediate specific learning difficulties and skill deficits.
Learning Centers may be organized by any concept, content, skill or topic. Learning Centers provide individualized educational experiences based on students’ particular needs and interests. Learning Centers stimulate learning, reinforce skill development and are a resource for students’ to use to extend their knowledge in a particular area. Learning Centers are not used with students on a daily basis. Usually, they are available to students once or twice a week depending on instructional time available and the skill and knowledge needs of the students.
Centers might be organized by PA Core Standards or specific concepts within the content areas. There is really no wrong way to develop Learning Centers. Organizing Learning Centers is both an art and a science. They are appropriate for students of all ages from preschool to high school. Teachers should express their own creativity and organizational design to develop meaningful Learning Centers within their classrooms to promote learning and student achievement. Following are some basic suggestions for creating Learning Centers.
1. Gather Student Assessment Data
Review multiple measures of student data to determine students' needs. Check on demographics, perceptions, student learning and school processes. Examine how these data intersect and influence each other.
2. Analyze Data
Analyze the data collected and determine the patterns and trends that are revealed. Are there indicators of weakness in particular knowledge and/or skill areas? Are areas inneed of improvement particular to a specific Core Standard, Assessment Anchor or Eligible Content?
3. Interpret Data
Identify the patterns and trends demonstrated through the data and match individual and small groups of students with each. Plan specific teaching and learning strategies that might be most effective for improving student achievement.
4. Develop Student Learning Profile
Assess each of your students and create a learning profile for each one. Consider how each student learns best: visual, auditory, kinesthetic learner. Consider the amount of time it takes for each student to learn concepts. Consider the reading level of each student. Consider the number of days absent. Consider all available test scores, especially item analysis data. Consider PSSA scores. Determine if there are small groups of students (3-5) who have similar skill needs.
5. Plan for Space, Location, Design
Plan the location of the Learning Center carefully. Select a corner or alcove or create a special space in your classroom to encourage students’ use. Many students respond favorably to inviting environments, cozy corners, comfortable chairs, attractive decorations and special touches from students such as a mural painted on a cardboard room divider. Area rugs, netting, sheer fabric also help to set off an area and make it appealing. You don’t have to be an interior designer, but creating a unique area is a motivating influence in getting students to use the Learning Center productively. Ask interested students to help create the environment you want to provide at your Learning Center. Consider inviting students to contribute to the Learning Center withpersonal collections or related artifacts and items for display. Parents might also beinvited to contribute ideas to the Learning Centers.
6. Identify the Learning Center Topic or Theme
Develop Learning Centers gradually. Make them an integral part of your lesson planning process. Your Learning Centers should support the lessons you are teaching during your whole group or small group instruction. Avoid feeling that you must create several Learning Centers immediately. Design and implement one Learning Center thoroughly in an area of personal strength or interest that relates to your content area as well as the PA Core Standards, Assessment Anchors, Eligible Content and the National Common Core Standards. Tie Learning Centers into your curriculum. The content and skills can change regularly to match the concepts that students are studying in a particular unit or chapter. Then, consider developing others. Work with a colleague to developLearning Centers. If each develops one Learning Center, they can be shared so that each of you has two Learning Centers to use with your students in your classroom.
7. Organize the Learning Center
Clearly label your Learning Centers and make sure they are easily accessible, are well-stocked with all the materials and supplies necessary for students to work independently. Be sure that the goals, objectives and directions are clearly written in student friendly language so that students can derive the maximum benefit from theirusage. Consider placing “In” and “Out” boxes or folders at the Learning Center so that students know where to pick up their work and where to place completed work. Create astorage system of boxes, baskets, folders or large envelopes to store materials. Label all materials in the Learning Center for quick and easy access.
8. Differentiate the Learning Center Activities
Include a variety of activities to engage different types of learners. Avoid providing onlypaper and pencil tasks. Students should have opportunities to draw, color, cut, glue,match, listen, fasten, tie, select, compare, classify, outline, assemble, rearrange etc. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination. Be sure to allow for student choice among the activities offered. Allow students to practice self-direction, responsibility andaccountability for their work at the Learning Center. Periodically add new activities tomaintain student interest. Be realistic about making changes. Weekly is too often, butyearly is not often enough. Changes with the grading periods, quarterly or with theadministration of 4Sight might be more reasonable and doable.
9. Be Explicit
List clear procedures for using the Learning Centers in a variety of modalities. Includevisual, graphic directions, written directions and oral directions (with earphones) so that students are able to begin work immediately.
10. Teach Students How to Use the Learning Centers
Before directing students to use the Learning Centers, conduct one or more orientation sessions to familiarize them with what the Learning Centers are, why they are being used and how they should be used.
11. Explain the Learning Center Routines
Post a Learning Center Schedule and Activity Log at the Learning Center. They operate more smoothly, efficiently and effectively when students have a set time of the week,day or class period to use them. The Activity Log can consist of dated sign-in and sign-out sheets to make students more accountable for their self-directed learning activities.
12. Identify Student Responsibilities and Consequences
Require students to complete a self-evaluation form after each visit to a LearningCenter. These can provide meaningful feedback to help you assess students’ progressand address their needs. If you prefer not to have a separate self-evaluation form, you might include a “Comment/Evaluation” space on the sign-in sheets so that students canwrite a brief self-assessment right on that same form.
13. Evaluate and Revise
Consider taking photos of the Learning Centers that you create. They will serve as a reminder for future use. Colleagues could also share photos and gather ideas for developing Learning Centers from one another. Use the student self-evaluations as well as your own observations to determine the success of the Learning Centers. Make changes to the Learning Centers based on the data you gather as students use the centers.