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Literacy Center Groupings

How to Group Literacy Center Students

Literacy Center Groupings

Teachers tend to be ardent democrats (lower case d). Whether Republicans, Democrats, or Independents, we all value equal opportunity and responsibility. Every one of our students deserves the same, fair shot at the American Dream and education is the ticket. Teachers who resonate deeply with these values tend to favor grade level Standards-based literacy centers (or stations if you wish).

However, no matter where we teach… in the cornfields of Iowa, in the multiplicity of languages that is Los Angeles, or the heart of inter city Chicago… we all teach to diverse student populations. Whether diverse by culture, language, socio-economic status, urban, suburban, or rural status, and so forth, every student is a snowflake. Teachers who identify their core values with diversity tend to favor differentiated Standards-based literacy centers.

Of course, many of us lean toward one of the ideals, but mix the two. However, let’s explore the two ideals a bit more in detail before discussing mixed approaches to literacy center groupings.

Grade Level Standards-based Literacy Centers

Some teachers believe in the value of sameness. Each student should be afforded an equal opportunity to access the Common Core Standards-based curriculum. Separate is inherently unequal Groupings according to perceived differences means that students will always miss out on something. For example, students pulled out to work on their phonics with the special education teacher will miss out on the “core curriculum” during the literacy block. Education is always reductive. Teachers would like to see learning opportunities as being both-and, but in reality they become either-or.

With regard to instruction, it would not be fair to characterize these teachers as all about direct, whole-class instruction for 100% of the instructional day. Teachers with this sameness philosophy often see the instructional value of small groups for both content and process learning. These teachers see literacy centers as helpful means to practice the gradual release of responsibility in order to promote independence in learning the same content. “Using this mode of instruction, teachers gradually release the responsibility for a task to students through four components: demonstration, shared demonstration, guided practice, and independent practice” (Fisher & Frey, 2008).

For example, teachers who value sameness might use a centers approach in which students would be grouped heterogeneously to rotate via either free choice or guided choice to each of the same centers, say to reading, writing, language conventions, and vocabulary centers in which they would work together collaboratively to complete the same work on grade level Standards-based lessons or activities.

Differentiated Standards-based Literacy Centers

Other teachers believe in the value of differences. These teachers would argue that the only way to access the Common Core Standards-based curriculum is through differentiated instruction according to the individual needs of individual students. Only when learning opportunities are truly differentiated will equality be achieved in the classroom. Because students have different abilities and challenges, they will learn best when accommodations are made, instead of ignored. In response to the the either-or conclusion reached by teachers adopting the sameness point of view, teachers valuing differences as an instructional approach might argue that the sameness instructional philosophy results in neither-nor.

With regard to instruction, it would not be fair to characterize these differences teachers as less rigorous in their expectations of student achievement. Plus, it would be unfair to assume that these teachers are less devoted to Standards-based instruction. The Common Core State Standards emphasize both linear and cyclical instruction. The authors explicitly leave the issue of remediation up to teachers, administrators and district personnel. In Appendix A, the Common Core authors state, “Local teachers, principals, superintendents and others will decide how the standards are to be met. Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms” (http://www.corestandards.org).

For example, teachers who value differences might use a centers approach in which students would be grouped homogeneously by specific criteria, say reading levels, to rotate via either free choice or guided choice to different content or skill-focused centers. The teacher might run five different guided reading groups during centers, have a center set up for multiplication practice for students who need it, have a center set up for remedial writing skills, etc.

Instruction in the Real World for Your Classroom

Because teachers live in the both the ideal and real worlds, we compromise. Many teachers of both sameness and differences educational value sets form both heterogeneous and homogeneous groupings in their literacy centers.

There are instructionally sound reasons for doing so. If half of your students need phonics instruction, according to the results of diagnostic assessments, but half don’t, it would be educational malpractice to either force all students to rotate to a Phonics Literacy Center and work on learning diphthongs. Sameness doesn’t make sense here. However, if all your students need to learn the Six Steps to Active Listening study skill, it would be crazy to group “bluebirds” and “redbirds” in ability groups for this skill that all need or deny remedial students these skill s because they can’t do anything else in life until they learn their diphthongs. Differences doesn’t make sense here.

Classroom management and behavioral considerations must supersede ideal groupings for literacy centers. Even if Robert and Juan have the same instructional needs and same reading levels, you know they can’t be in the same group. They would kills each other and, perhaps worse, make your life miserable.

Additionally, some literacy groupings need to be formed according to some good-old-common sense. Your non-English-speaking newcomer should participate in some, but not all of the literacy centers. The same will be the case for your three special education students and your two gifted and talented students who are pulled from your class on a regular basis.

Lastly, structural considerations will necessitate compromise between the ideals of homogeneous and homogeneous literacy centers. Check out the helpful seven group rotation models HERE.

We teachers always seem to have one foot in the ideal and another foot in the real. Don’t give up on literacy centers because  some compromises are necessary. My take is that some melding to the sameness and differences instructional approaches is possible. I believe students can catch up while they keep up with grade-level Standards. Literacy centers are a helpful instructional approach to achieving this end.

I’m Mark Pennington, the author of Academic Literacy Centers, a decidedly different approach to grades 4-8 literacy centersAcademic Literacy Centers are designed to teach the grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core English Language Arts and Reading Standards with these six rigorous and well-planned 20-minute centers for grades : 1. Reading fluency and comprehension (includes YouTube modeled readings 2. Writing sentence revisions and literary response 3. Language Conventions grammar and mechanics lessons 4. Vocabulary 5. Spelling and syllabication 6. Study skills. This user-friendly program bundle includes lessons and activities designed for independent, collaborative centers with minimal prep and correction. Plus, biweekly unit tests and all literacy center signs and rotation options are provided.

Also check out our remedial literacy centers: Phonics Literacy Center, Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center, Remedial Spelling Literacy Center, and the Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books.

Grades 4-8 Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center for Remediation

Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center

Literacy Center for Phonics

The Academic Literacy Centers

Academic Literacy Centers

Guided Reading Phonics Books Literacy Center

Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mix and match with your own centers.

Grammar/Mechanics, Reading, Study Skills, Uncategorized, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Literacy Center Rotations

Rotations for Literacy Centers

Literacy Center Rotations

More and more, teachers are seeing the value of using literacy centers (or stations, if you prefer) and the literacy center research certainly supports the use of small groups and centers in the classroom. However, there are certain challenges to setting up effective literacy centers. Many teachers explore the option, or even try to initiative centers, but quickly get frustrated and give up. Many do so because of behavioral issues, but others do so because of organizational problems. My take is that both go hand in hand.

I’m writing this article because every teacher has unique needs regarding setting up their own literacy centers. Setting up workable literacy center rotations to meet those needs can be challenging, especially for the spatially-impaired, like me. For this article, rotations refers to which literacy centers students move and when. Obviously, you can’t have all of your kids moving to the same literacy station at the same time. Following are rotation limitations, rotation options, and rotation transitions to make your literacy center planning easier. Of course, these are not the only options, but others can certainly be modified from the ones I will provide. Plus, clink on each link to find colorful visuals for each rotation option.

Rotation Limitations

Time

With respect to instructional time, I’ve never heard a teacher complain about having “way too much time in the day” to teach. This is especially true with respect to literacy centers (or stations). Instructional decisions are always reductive. In choosing to do literacy centers, you are choosing not to do another instructional approach or learning activity. The question will be how much time you are able to devote to literacy centers.

Most teachers opt for 20-minute literacy centers. This seems to be about the length of time students can handle independent work and the amount of time teachers usually spend doing guided reading or other teacher-led activities for literacy centers. To facilitate rotations, this means that the total amount of class time devoted to literacy centers would be 40, 60, 80, or 120 minutes. This would be true for both elementary and secondary teachers (the latter depending upon traditional for the 40 or 60 and block for the the 80 or 120 minute schedules).

Class and Group Size

Most educational researchers and teachers find that groups of 3-6 students are the ideal size for collaborative small groups, such as for literacy centers. With a class size between 20-26 for elementary teachers, 4, 6, or 8 groups will work. With a class size between 26-40 for secondary teachers, 6 or 8 groups will work.

Number of Days

Generally speaking, the fewer number of days doing literacy centers requires more rotations. Conversely, more days alloted to literacy centers permits fewer rotations.

Number and Types of Literacy Centers

As with the number of days, more literacy centers require more days and more rotations. The rotation options below show from 4-10 literacy centers. These rotation options provide guide choices. In other words, students are required to rotate to specific centers, but have limited choices of lessons or activities within each center.  Some teachers have set up more centers if free choice is permitted.

Additionally, if teachers wish to do guided reading or other teacher-led activities for literacy centers, rotation options will be limited because the teacher becomes, in effect, a literacy center herself. You can’t be everywhere at once! Three guided reading options are provided in the following rotations. One includes *guided reading for 20 minutes per day, four days per week; another includes **guided reading for 20 minutes per day, two days per week; one more includes ***guided reading for 10 minutes per day, four days per week.

Rotation Options

  • 40 minutes
  • 60 minutes
  • 80 minutes
  • 100 minutes

Check out these 10 Literacy Center Rotations

Rotation Transitions

Before launching literacy centers in your classroom, I strongly suggest practicing rotation transitions. Make sure to clearly post or display rotation transitions for student reference. Provide some form of signal, such as a chime, lights on or off, or clap-clap back to announce movement. Make sure that the clock is visible so the students, or an assigned task manager,  can monitor the time for each center lesson or activity and help the group wrap-up to provide a quick and quiet transition. Also practice set-up, tear-down, and clean-up procedures.

Students love to be timed and positive reinforcements work well to teach time management skills.

I’m Mark Pennington, the author of Academic Literacy Centers, a decidedly different approach to grades 4-8 literacy centers. Academic Literacy Centers are designed to teach the grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core English Language Arts and Reading Standards with these six rigorous and well-planned 20-minute centers for grades : 1. Reading fluency and comprehension (includes YouTube modeled readings 2. Writing sentence revisions and literary response 3. Language Conventions grammar and mechanics lessons 4. Vocabulary 5. Spelling and syllabication 6. Study skills. This user-friendly program bundle includes lessons and activities designed for independent, collaborative centers with minimal prep and correction. Plus, biweekly unit tests and all literacy center signs and rotation options are provided.

Also check out our remedial literacy centers: Phonics Literacy Center, Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center, Remedial Spelling Literacy Center, and Guided Reading Literacy Center with 54 illustrated take-home phonics books, designed for older readers.

Using the Guided Reading Phonics Books Literacy Center

Guided Reading Phonics Books Literacy Center

Grades 4-8 Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center for Remediation

Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center

Literacy Center for Phonics

The Academic Literacy Centers

Academic Literacy Centers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mix and match with your own centers.

Grammar/Mechanics, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills, Uncategorized, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Literacy Center Research: 5 Reasons to Use Literacy Centers

Read the 10 Reasons Not to Teach Literacy Centers

10 Reasons Not to Teach Literacy Centers

Literacy Center Research

5 Research-based Reasons to Use Teach Literacy Centers

Although I’ve used, helped to organize, and supervised literacy centers in one form or another for years in the elementary and middle school classrooms in my capacity as an ELA teacher and  district reading specialist, I have yet to write why I find literacy centers (also known as literacy stations or learning centers) to be a valuable means of learning. As a publisher of grades 4- adult ELA and reading curriculum, I’ve recently grouped together instructional resources into subject and skill-specific literacy centers (promotional section and FREE one-month unit follows article); hence a series of articles to both inform and plug my products. Now that my disclaimer and impetus for writing this article is out of the way…

My first article was on 10 Reasons Not to Use Literacy Centers. I figured that I had best cover the objections (many of them certainly legitimate) that teachers have regarding the idea of implementation of literacy centers. Most of the objections, but not all, focus not on the idea, but rather on the implementation of literacy centers. Literacy centers are not for everyone, and let me get this out of the way before I present the 10 Reasons to Use Literacy Centers: You can be an effective teacher without using literacy centers.

However, for the literacy center neophytes or for those veteran teachers who have been there and done that but want to give literacy centers another chance in their classrooms, let’s dig into the benefits and characteristics of effective literacy centers. And, yes, I think that these 5 Reasons to Use Literacy Centers outweigh the 10 reasons not to do so. Thank you to Dr. Jill Buchan for the following research citations.

5 Reasons to Use Literacy Centers

1. Literacy centers can be a superior instructional format. Some learning is best facilitated by direct instruction (didactic telling and explanation, showing, and modeling). For example, there is no instructional technique better for teaching the separation of powers into legislative, executive, and judicial branches. It requires telling and explanation. It also necessitates showing; you have to draw the tree trunk labeled “Government” and the three branches. It must involve modeling through concrete examples of how these abstract concepts work out in life. Other learning is best facilitated by independent practice. As a reading specialist, I can assure you that the best reading instruction is reading. Wait a minute… still buy all of my reading strategy and reading intervention products… they are important and terrific. However, sitting down and reading a book at one’s instructional level produces the greatest vocabulary development, fluency and comprehension practice, etc.

But literacy centers help students learn some things better than direct instruction and independent learning. For example, I learned long ago that the art and science of writing revision was learned best not through whole class direct instruction via mini lessons. Despite my wonderful PowerPoint presentations, incredible graphic organizers, and writing along with my students and sharing my work, the students could not replicate and apply my direct instruction to their own writing. Nor did independent practice work. Students don’t know what they don’t know. In other words, writers don’t intentionally write something incoherent that needs fixin’; they write their best. Writers don’t intentionally misspell words or misuse grammar and punctuation. Only when others provide perspective and feedback on the writing can a writer revise and edit effectively. And, no, the teacher red marks after the fact never provided near the amount of learning that small student response groups achieve. Literacy centers provide the best learning context for some content and skills.

My advice? Use literacy centers for what they teach best. Don’t make literacy centers into square pegs which don’t fit into round holes. Begin with the Standard; create a behavioral objective (Students will demonstrate the ability to…); and decide upon the best instructional method. It may be literacy centers, but it may be direct instruction or independent practice.

2. Literacy centers can be used for rigorous, Standards-based instruction. The rigor of Standards-based content and skills can adapt perfectly to the small group format of a literacy center. Generally speaking, the more rigor, the less goofing around. Plus, whoever concocted the idea that literacy centers had to be fun never achieved the kind of learning results that teachers, parents, administrators, and students want and need. Forget the fun. Challenging work and practice, even when seemingly boring or repetitive, can produce the best results. Students don’t have to like a literacy center to be engaged and learning the rigorous Standards.

My advice? Chuck the silly board games and art projects designed to make learning fun in literacy centers. Your job is not to be liked or to be the fun teacher. Don’t worry about the enjoyment factor; students will appreciate the results and feel good about what they have learned because of your rigorous expectations and challenging literacy center activities or lessons. So will you, their parents, and your principal. By the way, I titled my six grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 product: Academic Literacy Centers. No fluff in my program, although I think (and so do my students and teachers who have field tested) that some of it is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Plus, literacy centers don’t have to be cute works of art to engage students and help them learn. Primarily, literacy centers should be functional. Of course how one’s classroom looks and the environment and feeling tone that is created is important to many teachers. However, it’s the learning, not the looks, that matters, despite the fact that other teachers, parents, and administrators all-too-often judge the book by its cover.

3. Literacy centers can facilitate assessment-based instruction. Many teachers begin to use literacy centers in order to run guided reading groups. Teachers have traditionally accepted the fact that reading instruction needs to be adapted to the ability of reader. However, reading is not the only content or skill in which students differ widely in their experience and degree of mastery. Students have different instructional needs in writing, grammar, spelling, and vocabulary to name but a few that can also be taught in ability groups through literacy centers.

When properly assessed, students can be placed into literacy centers which target individual academic deficits. For example, if a group of five of your students do not know their diphthongs, a phonics literacy center can group these students with teacher-led instruction, targeted practice, and formative assessments to teach these sound-spellings. Check out my remedial Phonics Literacy Center HERE. as an example of a well-designed literacy center focusing on assessment-based remedial instruction. Want to download these ELA and reading assessments for free? Certainly. Just click HERE.

Literacy centers can involve both homogeneous ability groups as detailed above for remedial and accelerated instruction and heterogeneous groups for the grade-level content or skills best learned with that group composition. Researchers and teachers have long noted the sociological, academic, and linguistic values of peer tutoring and collaborative learning. Students helping one another out is never a waste of time. However, be careful to limit the peer teaching to common sense amounts and have the group share the instructional load. Furthermore, using the academic language of a content rich literacy center promotes vocabulary acquisition. Essential for English development!

In summary, students can catch up while they keep up with grade-level instruction through mixed group compositions in well-designed literacy centers.

My advice? Plan a rotation of 7 to 10 literacy centers: 6 grade-level heterogeneously grouped and the balance homogeneously and flexibly grouped by ability, in other words by assessment-based literacy needs.

4. Literacy centers can help teachers get out of their traditional roles and serve as coaches instead. Years ago a veteran teacher asked me, “Why are you a teacher?” I immediately responded, “To teach my students content and Standards.” The questioner said, “You will begin to accomplish that when you change your answer to “To help my students learn content and Standards.” Gulp. A real wake up call for me.

Our job is to facilitate learning. Now there is nothing wrong with being the “sage on the stage” for much of what we do as teachers. After all, we have “the goods they needs to gets” as students. But for other aspects of our jobs, being the “guide on side” will be a much more successful means to accomplish our goals. According to research completed by Fisher and Frey (2010), adopting the role of facilitator or guide allows the students to become self-directed learners.

When designed and implemented well, literacy centers can place teachers in the coaching role as students collaboratively complete center work.

My advice? Have students talk at least as much as you do in the classroom.

5. Literacy centers can promote independence. Much of our tasks as teachers should be to “work our way out of our jobs.” According to Boushey & Moser, 2014; Harvey & Goudis,2000, this observation “highlights the importance of trusting students as they practice and demonstrate autonomy. To teach students to become independent learners, strategies need to be presented, modeled, and practiced.”

Pearson and Gallagher (1983) introduced the term, gradual release of responsibility to “… promote independence. Using this mode of instruction, teachers gradually release the responsibility for a task to students through four components: demonstration, shared demonstration, guided practice, and independent practice” (Fisher & Frey, 2008).

Trusting students to independent work means giving them enough rope to help themselves or enough rope to hang themselves. Literacy centers help students develop an independent work ethic within an accountable peer structure. Teachers can help inculcate the virtues of hard work, personal engagement in a task, individual responsibility, organization, initiative, and positive collaboration, but students have to practice these values independently. However, not quite independently. Using appropriate peer pressure and accountability within well-defined, modeled, and practiced group norms and leadership roles nurtures work ethic. The literacy center can become “… a common gathering space establishes a tone for respectful learning, trust, cooperation, problem solving, and a sense of community in the classroom” (Kriete & Bechtel, 2002). True, students will sometimes take one step backwards for every two steps forward when left to fly on their own.

Literacy centers will have a high degree of success when the center routines and rotations are well-modeled, rehearsed, and reinforced. Researchers Harman and Nelson (2015) write, “Keep the same procedures: The ability to do things without having to consciously think about the task is known as automaticity. Automaticity can be achieved through simple repetition and practice. Students who engage in ongoing repetition of tasks are able to more effectively establish automatic response patterns. Ultimately, when students achieve automaticity, they are able to use the saved brainpower to do more, resulting in the ability to further build on their automatic skills.”

Academic Literacy Centers

Collaborative Academic Literacy Centers

Literacy centers are well-chosen instructional formats to develop leadership skills. Assigning group roles and holding students accountable for exercising these roles on a rotational basis is not only effective for center procedures, but also to control behavior. Many teachers have abandoned any form of small group learning or literacy centers because they can become classroom management nightmares. While this is a legitimate concern, the value of teaching students to work on their own is important in-it-of-itself.

Providing some measure of choice does promote effective independent work in literacy centers. “Boushey and Moser believe that children are more engaged, motivated, and successful when they have choice. The ability to choose empowers them and helps to create self-motivated learners” (Boushey & Moser, 2014).

My advice? I would argue that guided choices are more effective. Students will make wrong choices. But the design of rigorous literacy centers with sufficient modeling and well-established routines will limit the setbacks of wrong choices and motivate students into choosing what is best for them. I see nothing wrong in manipulating student choices. We are the adults. Of course students would rather choose to play a video word game, rather than complete a vocabulary worksheet in a vocabulary literacy center. They would rather eat candy than vegetables every day. We can limit their choices and still derive the benefits of student decision-making if we are clever. And we are if we use the right resources.

I’m Mark Pennington, the author of Academic Literacy Centers, a decidedly different approach to grades 4-8 literacy centersAcademic Literacy Centers are designed to teach the grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core English Language Arts and Reading Standards with these six rigorous and well-planned 20-minute centers for grades : 1. Reading fluency and comprehension (includes YouTube modeled readings 2. Writing sentence revisions and literary response 3. Language Conventions grammar and mechanics lessons 4. Vocabulary 5. Spelling and syllabication 6. Study skills. This user-friendly program bundle includes lessons and activities designed for independent, collaborative centers with minimal prep and correction. Plus, biweekly unit tests and all literacy center signs and rotation options are provided.

Also check out our remedial literacy centers: Phonics Literacy Center, Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center, Remedial Spelling Literacy Center, and the Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books.

Grades 4-8 Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center for Remediation

Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center

Literacy Center for Phonics

The Academic Literacy Centers

Academic Literacy Centers

Guided Reading Phonics Books Literacy Center

Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mix and match with your own centers.

Grammar/Mechanics, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

10 Reasons Not to Use Literacy Centers

Don't Use Literacy Centers

10 Reasons Not to Use Literacy Centers

Literacy Centers have been used by some teachers for years, but have become increasingly popular since the advent of Pinterest and the Teachers Pay Teachers “Culture of Cute.” Before getting into my 10 Reasons Not to Use Literacy Centers, a huge disclaimer is in order. I love literacy centers, and as a reading specialist and author of a reading intervention program, which offers a centers-based approach to assessment-based instruction, I find them to be invaluable instructional tools. Plus, I also sell grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Academic Literacy Centers. However, I don’t love the ill-conceived and poorly implemented literacy centers I see struggling in so many elementary and middle school classrooms. Hence, the 10 Reasons Not to Use These Kinds of Literacy Centers.

So, here’s the list of reasons I’ve compiled not to use literacy centers. But don’t take my word on it, check out the teacher comments as well.

Questions about Literacy

Literacy Center Questions

1. TIME: Literacy centers take too much time to create, to set-up, and to clean up. Time management may be the most important factor in a teacher’s success or burn-

out. All time is reductive: You add this and that has got to go. Plus, centers can take an inordinate amount of class time. Some teachers have abandoned direct literacy instruction altogether and do two-hour literacy centers. As a reading specialist, I can assure you that guided reading is not the only effective form of reading instruction. Plus, those literacy center learning packets, “I Can” statements, recording sheets, etc. take way too much time to correct and record.

2. ORGANIZATON: Literacy centers are an organizational nightmare. Bins, bags, folders, cubbies? Office supply stores love literacy centers. Artsy-fartsy project-centered activities in literacy centers cost teachers money they just do not have, and the MESS. Students cleaning up? Let’s face it; it’s not their skill set. And by the way, elementary teachers… middle schoolers are worse at cleaning up by far. Custodians hate literacy centers… not only because of the chair or table positioning, but because of the continual mess, wear and tear on classroom furniture and flooring.

3. FUN: So many of the literacy centers I see selling on teacher sites such as Teachers Pay Teachers focus on creating activities, which students will like. Of course, students would rather play a literacy board game rather than practice reading fluency. Wouldn’t you? However, we teachers are not in the amusement business; we are in the learning business. Whether students enjoy the activity or not is not the end goal. Wouldn’t you rather have a former student bumping into you at a restaurant ten years later tell you, “I learned so much in your class,” rather than “I had so much fun in your glass.”? A focus on fun and a focus on learning are mutually exclusive in my experience. The productive kind of fun comes from peer and student-teacher relationships and the self-fulfillment of actually learning something.

4. CHOICE: Here I tend to blame the academics, especially the university education professors who hold such an influence over

Questions about Literacy Centers

Literacy Center Questions

teachers-in-training and teachers taking staff development for salary advancement. I have yet to read any convincing research in my field as a reading specialist that indicates that student choice in selecting learning activities has a statistically positive correlation with reading improvement. Most veteran teachers have learned that guided choice would be a much better approach to literacy center activities. For example, teachers know that allowing students some autonomy in choosing the types of books

makes sense (motivation and learning theory so affirm); however, allowing students to self-select books irrespective of reading level seems to be teacher malpractice to me. My experience in the classroom finds that some students will self-select challenging books at appropriate word recognition levels, but many will not. No research that choice presents higher gains. Literacy center choice? We are the adults, here. We know the Common Core Standards and what is best for our students. We guide them toward vegetables, not candy. And if we’re good at it, we can make them think that they do have some choice, say in when to practice that reading fluency passage, where to practice it, and how to practice it. These choices make sense, but not these kinds of literacy choices: board game or reading fluency, art station or reading fluency, etc.

5. CUTE: Other teachers and culture often unduly influence impact a teacher’s instructional decision-making. I know many teachers who have been peer-pressured into adopting and/or continuing literacy centers as their primary means of literacy instruction. The “Culture of Cute” promulgated by many teachers on Teachers Pay Teachers and influenced by Pinterest has had an enormous impact on elementary, and some middle school, literacy teachers. A teacher’s artsy-fartsy, cute-looking literacy centers may, indeed, impress the teacher next door, the walk-through principal-specialist-district personnel, and the parent community. However, cute alone never gets a student to score high on the Smarter Balanced or PAARC tests, let alone the SAT or ACT in years to come.

6. INDEPENDENCE: Literacy centers focus on independence and de-value teacher-dependence. “Gradual release of responsibility” does not mean let the blind lead the blind. Poor literacy centers allow students the independence to do what students want to do by themselves; better literacy centers involve students completing work independently without pestering the teach or being spoon-fed to do by themselves what the teacher wants them to do. The best independent work is solidly teacher-dependent.

7. BEHAVIOR: Literacy centers create behavioral management problems. Even the best classroom management training won’t

Questions about Literacy Centers

Literacy Center Questions

overcome poorly designed centers or deal with Jonathan or Amanda, who can’t be left alone for more than 10 seconds. Students cannot learn in a learning structure which promotes constant behavioral issues. Plus, fair to say that all teachers are not wired the same way. For example, some can tolerate more noise than others. That doesn’t mean that the less tolerant teacher is less kid-centered, or needs additional classroom management staff development, or is misplaced at a particular grade level.

8. COLLABORATION: Most literacy centers don’t accomplish their purported purpose: using cooperative collaboration to learn. Much of the 1980s research on cooperative groups has been discarded in the literacy center movement. Groups are treated as merely collections of students working individually to complete self-choice learning tasks. Groups are primarily a necessary evil for a teacher “to put up with” in order to “free up” the teacher to do, say guided reading, with a small group (where the only real learning takes place). Floating around most literacy centers, observers would see minimal collaboration, no shared leadership or defined leadership roles, and a whole lot of Bella, the smart or responsible student, doing the work for her wanna-be-best-friend Samantha, the lazy or manipulative student. No accountability. No benefit of working together.

9. TRACKING: Literacy centers promote tracking. Because guided reading has become such a dominant feature of literacy groups, and most all guided reading groups involve homogeneous compositions, say by reading levels, the rest of the literacy groups tends to be cemented into same ability groups. Heterogeneous groupings can be incorporated into literacy centers, but most teachers chose not to follow this organization and management challenge. I, personally, favor a mixed approach of flexible homogeneous and heterogeneous groups, but literacy centers rarely reflect this mix.

10. DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION: Literacy centers have been used to prop up many of the discredited features of differentiated instruction–an instructional approach of the late 1990s and early 2000s which tended to feature student choice based upon multiple intelligences, brain theory, and learning styles. Although I constantly tried to co-opt the movement to suit my own views that we should teach different stuff to different students based upon the results of diagnostic assessments, teachers and popular authors favored the idea that we should teach different ways to different students based upon a myriad of other factors. For example, I see many literacy centers on sale on Teachers Pay Teachers which favor learning styles as determinants for independent student choices of learning activities. This, despite the fact that there is no empirical evidence to prove the existence or efficacious impact using learning styles to promote academic achievement. Truly, old theories take a generation to die out. Click HERE to learn more.

I’m Mark Pennington, the author of Academic Literacy Centers, a decidedly different approach to grades 4-8 literacy centersAcademic Literacy Centers are designed to teach the grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core English Language Arts and Reading Standards with these six rigorous and well-planned 20-minute centers for grades : 1. Reading fluency and comprehension (includes YouTube modeled readings 2. Writing sentence revisions and literary response 3. Language Conventions grammar and mechanics lessons 4. Vocabulary 5. Spelling and syllabication 6. Study skills. This user-friendly program bundle includes lessons and activities designed for independent, collaborative centers with minimal prep and correction. Plus, biweekly unit tests and all literacy center signs and rotation options are provided.

Also check out our remedial literacy centers: Phonics Literacy Center, Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center, Remedial Spelling Literacy Center, and the Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books.

Grades 4-8 Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center for Remediation

Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center

Literacy Center for Phonics

The Academic Literacy Centers

Academic Literacy Centers

Guided Reading Phonics Books Literacy Center

Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mix and match with your own centers.

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Academic Literacy Centers

Academic Literacy Centers

Collaborative Academic Literacy Centers

Academic Literacy Centers are separate grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 programs, designed to teach the Common Core English Language Arts Anchor Standards in writing, reading, and language. The literacy centers maximize learning through collaborative tasks, each taking from 15–20 minutes to complete. These six independent centers free-up the teacher to conduct mini-conferences with individual students, teach a guided reading group, or walk the classroom to supervise. A variety of rotation options provides flexibility and the addition of other centers as the teacher sees fit.

I chose to include academic in the program title to reflect the rigorous lessons included in the Academic Literacy Centers. Unlike other literacy centers, which focus on hands-on activities, games, art, exploration, and creativity (all good things), these centers focus on learning the Standards. Students take biweekly unit tests (included) to measure their mastery of the key Standards.

Now, this is not to say that students won’t enjoy any of the activities (they will), but I would rather have students learn content and skills than just have fun. If you were expecting a carnival of cute games and manipulatives, select another product. This is solid grade-level work and you, your parents, your principal, and most importantly, your students, will see measurable progress in mastering the grade-level ELA Standards.

These six Academic Literacy Centers have been designed to minimize or eliminate preparation, correction, behavioral problems, and clean-up time and to maximize flexible, on-task learning:

Academic Literacy Centers

Reading: Eight expository reading fluencies and corresponding comprehension worksheets

Writing: Eight sentence revisions lessons, which include revising sentence structure, grammar application, and writing style and eight literary response activities, which include literary quotation mentor texts and writer response tasks with different rhetorical stance (voice, audience, purpose, and form)

Language Conventions: Eight grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons including online links for both grammar and mechanics content and/or skills

Vocabulary: Eight vocabulary worksheets including Multiple Meaning Words and Context Clues; Greek and Latin Word Parts; Language Resources; Figures of Speech; Word Relationships; Connotations; and Academic Language Words

Spelling and Syllabication: Four spelling sorts based upon conventional spelling rules and four syllable worksheets

Study Skills: Eight reading and writing, listening, test-taking, memorization, and goal-setting lessons

 FAQs

Can I set up, tear down, and move these centers quickly? Yes. Set up and tear down only take a few minutes. Perfect if you share a classroom or move to another classroom.

Are there directions for each lesson and activity? Yes. There are longer teacher directions and shorter student directions on the literacy center task cards (provided in both color and black and white).

Do the literacy centers have the same instructional procedures for each lesson and activity? Yes. Read the directions and model the first activity or lesson for each literacy center once and your students will be able to work independently thereafter.

How much correction is there? Plenty, but your students will do all the correcting. Answers are provided with each task. Students learn from their own mistakes.

Are there unit tests? Yes, biweekly tests are provided on the grammar, usage, mechanics, vocabulary, and spelling content and skills. Answers, of course.Academic Literacy Centers Grade 4

Academic Literacy Centers Grades 4-8

Academic Literacy Centers

What exactly is Common Core State Standard grade-level specific and what is not? The sentence revisions (Writing Center), vocabulary worksheets (Vocabulary Center), spelling sorts (Spelling Sorts and Syllabication Center) each have separate grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 lessons and activities. Other lessons and activities cover the breadth of the grades 4–8 Standards. The reading fluencies and comprehension worksheets are leveled at third, fifth, and seventh grade levels.

Can I add my own centers? Yes, and I have six additional remedial literacy centers (sold separately) each include diagnostic assessments and focus on assessment-based instruction: Reading Fluency with Modeled Readings, Phonics and Sound-Spelling Card Games, Phonemic Awareness and Sight Words, Vowel Transformers and Spelling

I’m Mark Pennington, the author of Academic Literacy Centers, a decidedly different approach to grades 4-8 literacy centersAcademic Literacy Centers are designed to teach the grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core English Language Arts and Reading Standards with these six rigorous and well-planned 20-minute centers for grades : 1. Reading fluency and comprehension (includes YouTube modeled readings 2. Writing sentence revisions and literary response 3. Language Conventions grammar and mechanics lessons 4. Vocabulary 5. Spelling and syllabication 6. Study skills. This user-friendly program bundle includes lessons and activities designed for independent, collaborative centers with minimal prep and correction. Plus, biweekly unit tests and all literacy center signs and rotation options are provided.

Also check out our remedial literacy centers: Phonics Literacy Center, Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center, Remedial Spelling Literacy Center, and the Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books.

Grades 4-8 Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Remedial Spelling Literacy Center

Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center for Remediation

Remedial Grammar and Mechanics Literacy Center

Literacy Center for Phonics

The Academic Literacy Centers

Academic Literacy Centers

Guided Reading Phonics Books Literacy Center

Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mix and match with your own centers.

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Interactive Notebooks Assessment-based Individualized Instruction

Assessment-based Individualized Instruction INB

INB Assessment-based Individualized Instruction

Many teachers have found Interactive Notebooks (INBs) to be an excellent addition to their instructional repertoire to teach grade level Common Core Standards. Some teachers have gone “whole hog” with reading, vocabulary, history, science, and math INBs, while others have waded into the water with only one content area. Still others may or may not have dipped their toes into the INB pool and decided that a more traditional approach to content instruction works for them (without the mess and additional time of the INB) To each his or her own…

A number of years ago I decided to experiment with teaching interactive grammar notebooks to my seventh grade ELA students. Like many secondary ELA teachers, I, was skeptical about INBs simply being artsy-fartsy, “cute” projects to prop up teacher egos at Open House. Wrong!

As an author of quite a few grades 4 to high school grammar programs, I began to convert the program content to an INB format used by AVID: Cornell Notes. Cornell Notes is a natural fit in that is designed to be interactive: Students take notes and respond to the content. After the lesson students synthesize the learning.

My personal philosophy is to teach traditional grammar, usage, and mechanics in the reading and writing contexts, so I added on the grammar cartoons of my favorite illustrator, David Rickert with content related questions that required analysis and writing application. I added on simple sentence diagrams to help students practice the grammatical concepts in the context of sentence structure and created practice sentences. After all, practice makes perfect. I used the best foldables on the web (thanks Tangstar) and worked to create graphic organizers that would be less mess and less time-consuming. The foldables were designed to rehearse and synthesize the lesson components with some freedom of choice. I also created bi-weekly unit tests for all 56 lessons, which require students to define terms, identify concepts or skills, and apply their knowledge in original sentences. Done! A great grades 4-8 Common Core State Standards-aligned INB (if I do say so myself). But…

Something was missing: formative assessments for each lesson. How did I know and how would teachers know who would buy my Grades 4-8 Teaching Interactive Grammar Notebook if their students understood each lesson before they took the unit test? How would we know if we needed to go back and re-teach a certain aspect of the lesson? What if some students got it, and some did not? Rather than just move on to the next lesson, we had to know. After all, it’s really not about teaching… it’s about learning.

Like my traditional grammar programs, I added on two short mechanics and grammar formative assessments to each lesson. Now I knew if they got it or not, and who got it and who did not. Done! But…

Something was still missing: assessment-based individualized instruction. I’m always preaching, “Don’t assess if you don’t plan to teach to the assessment” to my ELA and reading intervention colleagues. Time to practice what I preach with my INB. Just like I have in my traditional grammar programs, I added on individualized instructional resources to my Grades 4-8 Teaching Interactive Grammar Notebook: worksheets (each with their own formative assessments), songs, posters, hand-outs, videos, you name it! Problem…

This INB was now a veritable tree-eating monster! With the additional hundreds of pages of resources to individualize instruction–many of which teachers would never use…

I figured it out. I created a section on the Cornell Notes for online links and resources.  Now INBs can help teachers individualize instruction so students can “catch up” while they “keep up” with grade level instruction. You’ll love it!

Grades 4-8 Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook Grades 4-8

Interested in checking out the author’s Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook? Click HERE.

Or check out the traditional style Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

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Grammar and Mechanics Tailwind Tribe

Tailwind Tribe for Grammar and Mechanics

Grammar and Mechanics Tailwind Tribe

Fellow teachers, authors, and publishers who love creating wonderful grammar, usage, and mechanics resources and programs are welcome to join my Grammar and Mechanics Tailwind Tribe. Let’s make this the go-to resource for teachers who are dedicated to improving the writing and speaking of their students by teaching the Common Core State Standards Language Strand with fidelity and fun! Who says grammar has to be boring?

Here’s my Grammar and Mechanics Tailwind Tribe description:

Free resources and the best grammar and mechanics programs to teach the Common Core Anchor Standards for Language. English grammar and usage, parts of speech, sentence structure, usage, punctuation, capitalization, quotation marks, and citations in the reading and writing contexts. No D.O.L. here! We are after solid assessment-based instruction with engaging class lessons and individualized instruction. Interactive notebooks, video resources, Cornell notes, grammar cartoons, grammar songs… anything to make the Language Strand Language Conventions Standards accessible to students! 

How about the tribe rules? We want to support teachers first and our own interests second! I think you’ll find that they make sense. Please join if you are a teacher, administrator, author, or publisher. If you are just a grammar junkie, you are welcome to observe, but not join. Thanks!

  1. Only post high quality, vertical pins which are specifically grammar, usage, and mechanics resources. Our focus is on grades 4-high school.  
  2. Re-pin at least 3 pins from our tribe for each that you add to the tribe (3:1).
  3. Pin at least two ready-to-use free grammar, usage, and mechanics resources (worksheets, posters, articles, videos, etc.) for each “program for sale” pin (2:1).

 Want to check out my Pinterest Grammar and Mechanics Board (you should) before joining the tribe? We want like-minded souls after all.

https://www.pinterest.com/mpenning3716/grammar-and-mechanics/

I’ll be looking for administrators. If you want to help out, please email me at mark@penningtonpublishing.com with a link to your Pinterest board(s).

HERE’S HOW TO JOIN. CLICK THIS INVITATION LIST!

https://www.tailwindapp.com/tribe/join?d=eyJpdiI6Ikl4bWpMV3JOd1VaVXhoWEdreTJVU0E9PSIsInZhbHVlIjoiQUwzUHZwSTY0Wld2OWRzdTRsM2ZjUzAyXC9ZWThSNnBVem5WZGYrdE55VndmZlJVQzJHMVwvY3h6RHBjNWlDRDVWQkpVcWVOTER4RXpZMjJIc3ljZkxlUWliK0JkMVFIZTNGSmV2Q0pQSjAwUT0iLCJtYWMiOiI3YjgzNzZiN2RmM2QyZWVhMDI4Y2NmY2Y2NmEyMGI4OTA0NDA1NzE0Y2U2YTQ0OGQ2YTk1NGFmMTg0OWU1ZTAwIn0%3D

Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary Programs

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8

 

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons.The complete lessons also include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards.

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Curriculum Map for Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

Developing a curriculum map for English-language arts, also referred to as an instructional scope and sequence, can be a time-consuming process for most grade level teams or departments. Detailed curriculum maps help get teachers on “the same page” in terms of what needs to be taught by the end of the term or year. Most teachers agree on what to teach, but prefer a bit more latitude on how to teach.

The curriculum map is most effective when the grade level or course content meshes with the previous and next year curriculum. Of course, a built-in review is necessary to clear away the summer brain drain that most students seem to experience. If teachers are able to agree on diagnostic and summative assessments, all the better to know right where to start a class and exactly what remediation will be necessary for individualized instruction. Check out our free ELA and reading assessments HERE.

Most teachers find that reading and writing are process-oriented subjects, while grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary are more content-oriented subjects. The devil is in the details for the latter subjects. To serve as a starting point for the curriculum map, check out these grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 instructional scope and sequence charts HERE from my Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary programs. I think you’ll find them to be helpful.

Cheers!

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