Saturday, January 18, 2014

Guided Math: How do centers work?

It's a windy little Saturday on a four day weekend (yesterday we had a work day, and we have Monday off), so I'm working on a bunch of fun projects at home.  While the four day weekend is nice, these four day weeks are hard on our classroom routine.  

Before I get started, I'm currently working on a professional teaching portfolio.  I probably should have been keeping up on this every year that I've been teaching, because now it's a rather large project.  Any ideas?  I had one from student teaching, but that was nine years ago, and I don't think it's relevant at all anymore.  Do you have one?  Did you take it when you interviewed?  Did anyone actually look at it?  What was in it?  Thanks!!!  


I'm back with another riveting segment about Guided Math instruction (this is part three of a four part Guided Math post session, so check my two previous posts to get all caught up!).  Brought to you by the letter C for Centers.
I just started Guided Math in my own classroom last year.  I attended a conference last fall for Guided Math, and then traveled to Chicago last summer for a train-the-trainer Guided Math institute (that was a quick review for those of you who have read my last couple posts).  I loved all of it.  I found that the biggest adjustment for me was finding enough lessons and activities to keep students working hard.  Centers can be a little tricky, because you do need to keep rotating them throughout the year.  I find Guided Reading centers and Daily 5 much easier to implement and prepare.  

I want the easiest, quickest, and most effective way to implement math centers in my classroom.  Don't we all?  There are other things I want to do with my time away from school, even if it is just cozying up on the sofa with tea and a movie.  

What the heck are we supposed to do with the rest of the class while we are focused and teaching our 5-6 students in their small group?  How do we keep the rest of the class focused?  How do we keep them on task?  How do we get them to buy into this approach and look forward to this time?  That's what I'm tackling today.  As always, your ideas are welcome!  Let me know what you're doing in your classroom.

Your centers should be review activities that reinforce concepts that have already been taught in your classroom.  None of your center activities should be over a concept you are currently teaching.  You may, however, have students complete an assignment over what you just taught before they can check into their center.  After they turn it in, they can start their center activity for the day. 

Students should be engaged in activities while you are working.  You don't want them coming up and asking you questions and interrupting your precious 10-15 minutes with your small group.  If they are working on something you are currently teaching, they may be unsure and want to ask a question for clarification.  Likewise, they may also do the entire activity incorrectly for a few days before you realize they've been doing it all wrong.  By that time, they've developed an unhealthy habit that will be harder to break.

I don't mean for that to sound mean.  I'm not walking around ignoring students all day long.  When you are first introducing your Guided Math time to students, it is important to be very consistent about the "Do Not Interrupt" rule.  If I'm meeting with a small group of students and another student walks up and asks a question, I keep teaching or working with my group and do not respond.  It feels weird.  It might take a few times, but finally that student will realize that you were serious about not answering questions during small group time.  If you continue to answer their questions, no matter how big or small (ie: May I use the restroom?), you have taught your class that it is ok to come up and interrupt.  

To use the restroom, my students go over by the door and raise their hand.  When I see them, I wave for them to use the restroom.  This way, they are not interrupting my group and we can communicate without words.  Generally speaking, my center time is an ok time for them to take a restroom break.  However, if it is a student that is trying to avoid checking into a center, I will shake my head for them to return to what they were doing.  

My math gurus wear necklaces (leis or mardi gras beads) so that students know who they can ask if they have a question.  If neither of my math gurus can answer the question, and students cannot continue the center without the answer, then that center closes for the day.  I will address the issue after center time so that it's taken care of for later.  Since all of my students are "trained" to be gurus, it is pretty easy for them to figure out where something is if it is missing from the center drawer.

Here's the kicker.  6-8 weeks.  Don't stress yourself out making task cards every week for center time.  I have one or two center activities for each concept I teach throughout the year, and those will trade out as we work through our curriculum.  I don't necessarily use the same activity or game every year, but there are a few of my stand by favorites that I grab.  You want activities that will keep students engaged that entire time, and that can be tricky.  I try to find one activity or game that they can play that is just slightly different each time.  More on that later.

If you keep a center around for awhile, students will know just what to do when they get it out.  It will reinforce whatever concept you have chosen to have out for that time period so that students get really comfortable with the topic.  

For me personally, I don't use task cards for centers because if I leave those out for 6 weeks, students will have already completed all twenty cards in the first week.  Plus, it takes a ton of time to get those prepped for one time use per year.  I'm all about maximizing their time learning and minimizing my time preparing.  It takes a lot of planning to prep all your small groups, let alone center activities.  

My next post will show just what activities I have set in my classroom right now and how I implement this time with my students.  Check back Monday!


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