I get this question a lot and I totally get why. You create these awesome centers or work systems. You made mini schedules and visuals and differentiated tasks. But wait – you forgot one thing. You forgot to create that magic wand to wave over your students’ eager little heads that teaches exactly how to do the centers. You can see the end goal – students work independently on different independent tasks but it’s hard to see how to get there. And the getting there part is what will cause you to miss out on that whole beautiful picture of students working at their centers and you will be silently cursing the idea of centers under your breath the whole year as you try to maintain a low level of chaos that is now your centers setup.
Teach the Work First
The work within any centers or independent work system should be previously mastered. This is work that your student needs extra practice on. Maybe you taught this skill last year – and right now you need a little review. This is important. Skills that we never use – we forget (cough, cough pre-algebra); so keep the skills that you taught your students fresh in their memory through providing this practice piece. Now just because the skill is previously mastered doesn’t mean that you can hand your student a brand new binder of category sorting pages or parts of speech word sorts and they will instantly now how to do it. You will likely need to review that specific task. The structure and sequence of the activity may be new to your student and that’s what you want to teach.
You can also work on teaching these tasks during scheduled center time. You are likely not scheduled to be at centers during that time because the goal is for these tasks to be independent. So plop some puzzles or iPads with the group you are supposed to be with and head over to centers to teach the process over there. Don’t feel bad about this for one minute. If you spend two weeks – really fully teaching centers you will be able to fully focus on the group you were supposed to be working with the rest of year versus only giving half of your attention to your group because you have to maintain what’s going on at centers.
So spend the time teaching the specific tasks that will be in the centers, this shouldn’t take too long because the content is mastered you are just reviewing the process of that task. When will you do this teaching you ask? Great question. You’ve got a few options. You can work on these centers during your direct instruction/small group/one on one time/etc. Remember how we said we aren’t teaching any new skills this September – well I just planned the whole month’s lessons for your direct instruction time. Use that scheduled time to review these tasks with your kids. Giving that strong foundation will allow them to do the tasks on their own later in the year.
Teach the Schedule or Process
Now just teaching the tasks isn’t enough here – we’ve also got to teach the process or schedule. It’s likely that your students will do multiple activities or there will be multiple steps included in centers. Think about all the steps included in the whole process. Where will students find materials? How will they submit finished work? What is they have a question? What do they do when they are done? Go through this whole process with them. Model, fade your prompts, reinforce independent responding. This will take time. That’s okay. Use those same strategies above to teach this. Ditch your other group and spend some time teaching and reinforcing this process. It will be worth it in the long run.
I always suggest that teachers schedule this in their calendars in case we forget. After you do this stellar, amazing job fully teaching and fading yourself from centers – you still need to check in every so often. Maybe every other Tuesday you pop in and see what students are doing. Make sure the work is at the right level, make sure nobody is getting done way too quickly or way too slowly, and then adjust as needed. Remember – if you never check in your students will pick up on that and start slacking. No blame to them – it’s only natural. You can’t tell me that your IEPs would be as thorough and detailed if you knew that literally nobody was going to read them. So make sure to stay on top of those centers!