May 30, 2014

Free Choice in Kindergarten

I have been working on a presentation I am doing in June, trying to get prepared because it is BIG for me. I was asked to be a guest lecturer at the University of Florida on the topic of learning centers. I am....... nervous. O.O

Regardless of my jitters, I am insanely excited as well. Today, in preparation, I returned to my internship classroom where my supervising teacher still uses the system I helped implement for centers during the Reading block. I wanted to make sure I had some good pictures to use in my presentation and I think I snapped a few goodies today. I also had a BLAST with the kiddos. I miss them! My husband tagged along today and read them The Duckling Gets a Cookie?! by Mo Willems. They LOVE the pigeon series!

Anyway, let me explain the centers we used in our Kindergarten classroom. It took a long time to implement and it took a VERY long time for students to learn how to make good decisions and manage their time.

Here's how it works:

Students have a "person." They are just girl and boy die cuts from the library on cardstock that they decorated and we laminated.

Little paper cuties.

We put the little people in the top of a pocket chart.

Then, we used the center labels purchased from Teachers Pay Teachers HERE for $3. They are adorable. The center labels here are in a pocket chart and indicate the centers students can choose from that week. In the beginning, we limited the number of centers per week, but as the year went on and the students grew more accustomed to this method we were able to add in a LOT of different centers.

Next to the center label is a green index card with big dot stickers on them. The dots indicate how many students are allowed at a center at one time. This is a visual way to represent this limit and can be seen at a pretty good distance to quickly determine the number of students in each center. In the picture above, there are 4 students permitted to be in the Writing center at one time and based on the picture, no one is in that center right now! ;)

When students choose a center, they move their "person" behind one of the dots, as shown in the picture above. This little girl is going to Word Work!

Free choice is great, however the students have to have a way to work on different skills everyday. That's where the checklist comes in. If the students had all the choices, they would usually choose the same things day in and day out.

I created little checklists on strips of paper using the same labels (printed in black and white), with the week's dates, and stapled them into a file folder. Students can easily get their folder with their checklist and know which centers they need to accomplish by the end of the week. In the beginning, this was very difficult. Some students would breeze through them and some would wait till the last minute. Like adults, right?! Here's what a checklist looks like on my computer:

I use Publisher ALL THE TIME. I printed less when I made them in strips this way. I just printed them and cut them into strips and then stapled them in! It took maybe 10 minutes on Monday mornings. Not too shabby.

Students are given 15-20 minutes in each center. At first, I let students move freely through centers with no set time parameters, but as mentioned before, some students went crazy fast through them... so, I set timers as a solution and it worked well.

When students finish work in a center, they place their work in the file folder and then put their folder in the red pocket chart which is hanging on the other side of the blue pocket chart with their people in it.

This is the red chart labeled with their student number. I feel bad that the folders weren't in there. My supervising teacher is grading them! But they were filled with folders and papers!

This way made it much easier for little hands to file their work and easy for me to collect at the end of the week. I then graded work, made my notes, and stapled everything together with the checklist on top and sent the packets home on Mondays for parents to see their progress. Easy peasy.

I love this strategy for running centers. The students are given choices which they love. They can work with different students everyday rather than just the few in their reading group. They are learning independence early on and it has set in motion the development of time management skills and good decision making.

I also use free choice within the centers as well, which makes it easier on me because I don't have to change centers all the time! Students know when they go to Word Work, they can do magnet letter challenges, nonsense word cards, partner phonics games, etc. I won't delve into what each center has to offer in this post. Maybe another time!