The transition to 1st grade has made me reflect on many of the practices in grades kindergarten through second grade.. I taught 1st grade in 1999 and 13 years later after having taught upper elementary and middle school my understanding of educating 1st graders has tremendously improved. I used to think that everything in 1st grade should be cute and fun but this idea is an afterthought because I now look at how effective the center activity addresses the needs of all of the learners in my classroom. I understand that my first graders are little people and things for them should be fun sometimes, however the reality is that there is life after 1st grade. The standards and assessments that my students will face are very rigorous and require a level thinking that many teachers, such as myself, have never had to face in their lifetimes.
When I took over my 1st grade class in December, I had no idea that teaching 1st grade was going to be a journey that would increase my understanding of why 3rd graders struggle with literacy. When I began planning my literacy centers I began by looking at my students’ data. This provided me with quantitative data and a place to begin since I was coming in at the middle of the year. I didn’t have any qualitative data on the student so I had to adjust and readjust my students’ group placement several times before I got it right. Morning work folders and center folder are colored coded based achievement. This helps me to stay organized and helps the non-readers find their folders easily.
The work that I use for my groups is differentiated and supports the reading concepts from their Guided Reading lessons. This work is called seatwork and when I ask my students where is seatwork done they respond, “At your seat!” After their seatwork is completed they are allowed to go to their respective literacy centers. I decided to number my learning center containers because it was easier for me to keep up with and for the students to recognize, especially if they couldn’t read.
I know that Guided Reading has it’s own set of literacy centers but I don’t use all of their literacy centers because I use the 5 essential components of reading as a guide.. I have currently introduced 4 of 7 literacy centers to my students, word work (phonemic awareness), comprehension, read to someone (partner reading), and work or writing. I create all of the actives that the students complete because I want the activities to be prescriptive for what the students need in order to master specific reading concepts based on the quantitative and qualitative data.
My literacy centers include word sorts, matching words that have the same sound without pictures, and comprehension activities from the book I read aloud during carpet time. I increase the rigor of my literacy centers by always including a writing part for the students to complete. It could be create 3 sentences using 3 words from the word sort or write a sentence using the 3 words that the they chose to describe a character.When the students read a book at the read to someone center they have to complete a response sheet for the book. I do this because this is a necessary part that is often overlooked. I always try to remember that the definition of literate is the ability to read and write. I think most teachers in the primary grade levels focus more on the ability to read than write. The writing component has become important to teachers in grades 3rd-12th because students and teachers are held accountable for the writing.
Adding a writing piece to learning centers is especially important for struggling students because these students are the students who see learning centers as playtime. Before I relocated I had one of my former 4th graders who was consider as a high achieving students tell me that all they did in math this year was play. I asked her why she said that and her response was all we do is go to centers all day. For some reason students who struggle view learning centers as playtime when they don’t have to write anything.
Creating rigorous learning centers can be very challenging because the students will struggle with the writing piece at first. The pay off in the end is very rewarding for students and teachers. It is rewarding for me as a teacher because as the school year progresses I get to actually see my students acquire writing and reading skills at the same rate and not have to wait until third grade to become literate in all subjects.