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The Informed Parent

Using Centers To Differentiate The Classroom

by Catherine S. Tolnai, M.A.T.
Published on Sep. 24, 2012

In most elementary school classrooms, parents can expect the teacher to design educational centers to better meet the personal needs of her students. In creating a center, a teacher sets aside a specific space in the room dedicated to a unique activity for a small group of students. There can be multiple centers functioning at the same time. Sometimes the teacher or aid will be at a center helping the students do the work. Other times, the work at a center is meant to be something that the children can manage on their own or with the help of their peers. Centers are fantastic tools that teachers often utilize for a variety of reasons.

Now you may be wondering whether or not your child’s teacher uses centers in her room. My first suggestion is to listen for it on Back to School Night. If you don’t hear it there, broach the teacher and ask her directly. If indeed the teacher does teach with centers, you may be able to be of use to her and serve as a volunteer on those days. Your presence may help the teacher focus her attention better and it will also give you a chance to engage the teacher and school usefully. This could be the key you find to unlock the mystery of the school day and better understand the structure of your child’s classroom.

Centers for Remediation

When a child or group of students display evidence that they may be struggling on a particular concept or skill, a teacher could design a center to review this content. Often, the teacher chooses to position herself at this space so she can spend time re-teaching or introducing the same concept in a new way. While this happens, the rest of the students might be working on independent practice or participating in other small group centers. This ability to create a focus-group allows the teacher to really assess the level of understanding in these students and also determine some next steps.

Center for Extended Practice

Similar to a remediation center, a center for extended practice would be designed to differentiate the content for students who may need an extra level of challenge or to spend more time on a concept before moving on to more. Again, a teacher would most likely choose to position herself at this space so she can ensure specific implementation of strategies that takes the content to a more sophisticated level or allows her to assess when the children have reached a better understanding of a content area.

Centers for Enrichment and Creativity

In an age where we see the arts and technology being cut from the budgets of our schools and districts, centers for enrichment and creativity allow teachers to integrate these curricular areas back into their classroom. Music centers where children listen to educational songs may spark a level of increased interest for your child. Listening centers also allow students to practice their listening skills and apply this to their reading and writing. Similarly, drawing or painting centers help the more visual learners engage content meaningfully. A reading center may provide time in the day for students to simply sit and practice their independent reading skills or practice reading skills through educational games. While this is not a finite list of centers for enrichment and creativity, the idea behind this type of center should be clarified.

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