Monday, April 15, 2013

My version of Literacy Centers

After teaching first grade for 10 years, I've FINALLY found a compromise to make centers/ Daily Five work for me (and our reading series).  
A little background for you... I began my career using a basal anthology.  I hated it!  Then I went back to grad school to get my masters in Reading and Language Arts.  I always loved teaching ELA but, when I spent 4 years studying how to be a great reading teacher, I truly discovered my passion.  It was also at this time when my district began to shift to the Reading and Writing Workshop Models.  I went to training at Columbia and became a loose follower of Lucy Caulkins.  I worked on our district's ELA curriculum team for SO many years as we created a curriculum from scratch.  Fast forward a few more years, and the pendulum shifted again back to a basal anthology.  I resisted this change with everything inside me, but then eventually gave up knowing it was a battle I wouldn't win.  If we were going back to a basal, I was at least going to have a say in which one we picked.  Our district settled on Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Journeys.  At first I hated it... but then I found ways to still add my style and make it work for me.  
I've always used a kind of hybrid approach to centers.  I've never been able to work with a strict rotation.  Some students always finish first and some just never do!  Sometimes I needed more than 15 minutes with a group, sometimes a group needed less.  I just hated being stuck with a schedule.  I used The Daily Five approach for a few years, but then when we got our basal, I felt like I needed more structure to have students practice the skills they were responsible for during that week.  So my checklist was born.  

Basically, I have two independent checklists (one for my top two reading groups, one for my lower reading groups).  Students choose from the activities on this checklist for their week's independent review.  Any highlighted activities are top priorities.  Each list is differentiated and students' highlighted priorities are differentiated based on their needs.  I've had an excellent response to this format.  The students feel like they have choice and they are working with hands on review activities.  They think they are playing and the time just flies by.  While students work on their independent activities, I pull reading groups for small group instruction.  Many of the activities on this checklist an be found through Dawn at First Grade Shenanigans.  Her work has been a major inspiration in me finding my groove again and beginning to create my own activities and blog while finding myself with Journeys.  
Here are some pictures so you can see some of what goes on during "Checklist Time."  
Students work on a variety of activities including Read to Self,  "ar" sorts, and sight word review.

My student teacher works with a guided reading group while students work on their checklists.

A close up of the differentiated sorts.  

Students work on their checklists on Monday- Thursday.  On Thursday, I collect students folders and mark their completed work.  Any corrections are made Friday morning before our weekly test and I am able to pull RTI groups based on observations and how students did on their checklist activities.  I don't think this is necessarily the best way to do centers but, it's been the best fit for me and my class.