Benefits and Disadvantages of Using Centers in Elementary Classrooms By: Tiffany Rocco and Jennifer Rosella

In today’s classrooms, learning centers are becoming a more popular way to run the class.  They are designed to assist students in developing independence, learning through self-discovery and are also a chance for the teacher to target specific academic skills.  Learning centers can be set up in a number of different ways, including stations that students rotate between.  Learning centers truly give teachers a chance to recreate curriculum that fits the needs of their students.  Not every child learns the same; therefore, learning centers are a way to incorporate multiple teaching styles as well.  For example, a teacher may have a specific student spend more time in a literacy center than any other due to the student’s lack of literacy skills.  This gives the teacher and the student a stronger chance at understanding one another and what it takes for the child to succeed.

On a website created by a first grade teacher, Mrs. McDowell, she speaks about the ways in which she uses classroom centers in order to better suite the needs of her students.  Mrs. McDowell has created math, science, letter books (alphabet books), and etc. in order to keep her students actively engaged with what they are learning. Over the years she has been working on the development of centers that can be used throughout the years rather than changed weekly. Mrs. McDowell believes that children learn best when they are engaged, and by implementing learning centers into the classroom, she is incorporating not only educational lessons, but educational activities as well. After carefully reading through Mrs. McDowell’s learning centers, we completely agree with the idea of implenting lessons with fun activities.  When you break up the schoolwork a little bit, it gives the child a chance to experience other forms of learning that will keep them interested and engaged.

One of the biggest advantages we found on learning centers are  “guided reading”. As stated in the “Instructional Strategies Online”, learning centers are focused around the development of a child’s reading abilities. Typically, the teacher will break up the class into small groups in order to teach them various reading strategies such as word structure and context clues. There are different ways to approach these centers and they include switching up the grade level of the books used and pre-reading to the students (ie. prediction making).

We believe the use of Centers in the classroom offers many benefits for students including learning to work independently and having individualized attention according to reading ability. Many teachers today use Centers because it provides them the chance to incorporate guided reading while the rest of the class works on different tasks. In an article on Scholastic.com, the author, Mary Kreul, describes guided reading in Centers as having the opportunity for students to use the reading strategies on their own so as to become confident readers. But many people wonder if grouping students according to ability in their guided reading groups is a good idea. How does this affect the child’s self-esteem if they are in a lower reading group? On the Education World website, an article discusses whether or not it is a good idea to group students according to ability. In the article it gives an account of a college student reflecting on his elementary school experience, saying that grouping by ability places a stigma on students socially about who is in the “high” groups and who is in the “low” groups. Although guided reading helps students with what they are struggling with most, is it a good idea to label them in this way? Can this leave a lasting impact on a student about how they view themselves and how they view each other?

Despite this issue, we believe Centers is very beneficial to students and a good use of time in the classroom. Students are able to work on what they need to work on most, while learning to be accountable for their own assignments. Students also have more academic freedom to choose activities they enjoy doing and to choose the books they have the most interest in. Students learn best when they have the opportunity to make choices about their own education. This set-up allows students to do this as they are able to use their own interests and learn material in the way they learn best. Lastly, Centers provides the flexibility for teachers to individualize instruction for each student in the classroom.

http://www.educationworld.com/a_issues/issues002.shtml

http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=4343

http://olc.spsd.sk.ca/DE/PD/instr/strats/guided/guided.html

http://www.mrsmcdowell.com/centers.htm

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24 responses to “Benefits and Disadvantages of Using Centers in Elementary Classrooms By: Tiffany Rocco and Jennifer Rosella

  1. Personally, I love the idea of using learning centers int he classroom. I have found them to be beneficial to a greater majority of students. It is an individualized method, organized according to the needs of each child. Although, serveral aspects of learning centers may be questionable, such as self-esteem. I think if performed with awareness and a clear understanding of the methods, the benefits of using learning centers in the classroom overshadow any possible negative outcomes.

  2. Although I am not an elementary teacher, I think the use of centers could be very beneficial not only in the elementary level but the secondary as well. I think these types of centers could be very helpful because ALL students are engaged in some type of activity. As a secondary teacher, one way to incorporate centers could be a review period. Each station could be a review for a different aspect of the test. Throughout the period, students can rotate around the room to work on activities and areas they need more help with. I think this is a great way to differentiate instruction and also appeal to all types of learners. Any type of learning that is student centered is very beneficial to the student. Students need to be engaged and this is a very great way to achieve that type of engagement.

  3. elizabethhartofilis

    I think centers are a great thing . Like it was mentioned not all children learn in the same fashion. others are slower, other are faster. Or some may just be a bit smarter to grasp new things. There is nothing wrong with having to spend a little extra time in a learning center. As for children being stigmatized, what would happen if we did not have centers and the teachers just went over curriculum whether the children understood it or not? We could have several children not understanding or grasping the curriculum and in a matter of time we will have children failing. What can be worse that being stigmatized a failure? Centers are very beneficial and gives all children the opportunity to learn at their own pace effectively.

  4. During my fieldwork observations I observed a first grade class were their were centers in the classroom. I think that centers are GREAT in certain classrooms. The students that I observed loved the reading center. This center gave the students the choice to pick which book they wanted to read. Their was also a computer center the students were allowed to play different educational games on the computer. I believe that centers should be age approprite. The centers are a great educational activity for grades k-5.

  5. Personally i am in the field of adolescent education so i do not think i would use centers in my future classrooms. With respect to younger grades i think it is a great idea, a wonderful tool that teacher have at their disposal. As others have talked about, not all our students will learn the same way. Centers can allow students to spend the time needed at a desired center until they feel comfortable with the task at hand. Just as any other method there may be a few problems, but if used properly centers can be a great tool

  6. laureenconnell

    I think Centers sound like a great idea in elementary school classrooms. Why do the kids need to be separated by ability though? I would think a teacher could still use the learning centers and have kids of mixed abilities together. This sounds like something they use in Montessori classrooms, kids can pick whatever learning station they are interested in and work independently.

  7. I personally think centers are an extremely beneficial aspect of an elementary classroom. Although, I do not think it is a good idea for students to be segregated by ability. Students should be able to work together and learn from one another. Peer learning is extremelly beneficial in elementary school classrooms. My niece is a 1st grade student and talks about her centers all night long. She loves them, and says she makes a lot of friends during centers time. She works with the other girls in her class to complete certain tasks at the centers.

  8. I agree that centers are beneficial to elementary school students. The most effective centers I have witnessed were the reading centers and the computer centers. Students participating in these particular centers were engaged in their particular assignment or activity the entire time. However, the remaining centers needed some tweaking. These centers mainly consisted of various educational games and puzzles. The students found the puzzles fairly interesting for some of the time, but lost interest in the other game centers quickly. The reason for this seemed to be that the students had played these games many times before, and were no longer interested in playing them again. These games no longer provided students with challenging opportunities to foster critical and creative thinking, and were now considered boring. As a result, these students were not doing anything constructive during the majority of center time. I think the key for teachers is to maintain centers as the school year progresses, and rotate out the the activities, consistently providing students with increasingly challenging and interesting activities.

  9. In my opinion learning centers are a good tool for teachers to use in their classroom. I think over the years they have also become more popular. In the elementary class that I observed in recently the teacher uses centers. The children have a “Free Centers” time in the morning in which they choose which activity they want to do. In the afternoon the children rotated from table to table. The children appeared to like the tables and activities. The students socialized with one another and helped each other when needed. It also gave the teacher time to work with students that needed her help. So I believe if used appropriately centers can be beneficial to the students.

  10. I have observed learning centers in the classrooms where I do my student observation hours. I have to say it works for some types of classes but not all. In the younger grades it seems great but in the middle school grades it doesn’t work. The learning centers are a tool that a teacher can use. It is just a tool. A teachers should use whatever they feel best suits their students.

  11. I have observed centers in 1st grade and 4th grade and I was very impressed with the types of activities that the children were allowed to do. In the reading center, the 1st graders were listening to a book on tape, while following along with a hard copy of the same book. What a wonderful way to recognize sounds and letters and learn to sound out words! Other children were playing educational games on the computer, which they were also enjoying. In the 4th grade class writing center, students were working on finishing stories that had been previously started. The centers gave the teacher time to work with small groups of students while the other students were gainfully occupied. I think centers work beautifully in the elementary school classroom.

  12. jensavestheday

    I like the idea of learning centers and would like to somehow incorporate it into a high school biology curriculum. Often, preservice teachers hear about how we have to provide varied sources of information to engage the students in their learning. Also, I am a strong believe of active learning and let kids get involved in their learning. I think learning centers could really lend themselves to some sort of inquiry-based learning unit. As for the issues of how to create groups, I think the best thing would be to switch it up depending on the activity. Sometimes, educational activities are best done with peers that are on the same level, but during other activities, students may benefit from peer mentoring. By switching it up, everyone can get a chance to work together and the issue of stigmas attaching to certain groups would be addressed.

  13. I think this is a fantastic idea and something that I haven’t come across before. It is always difficult to cater for the needs of every student when teaching the class as a whole, but using this method allows the teacher to do just this, benefitting both the child and student. This is definately something I would consider incorperating into my classrooms

  14. Learning centers keep some motion in education. Anything is better than the monotomy of rote learning while glued to a seat.
    A learning center can be an area where a student may excel, while not doing great at others. I think this is an area where self esteem can be enhanced rather than detracted.

  15. As an advocate for making learning fun and student centered approaches, I am also a huge supporter of implementing centers in a classroom. I think it is very important to break up the daily grind of sitting at a desk and encourage students to move about the classroom. While I have not seen this tool used in the older grades, I do think it would be possible, and I especially like the idea contributed by jensavestheday in trying to implement centers into high school science classes.

    That being said however, it has now been nearly 20 years since I have been in first grade, and I still remember what reading group I was in… “Blue Birds.” Even at the age of 6, my classmates and I knew we were being judged and categorized; we knew who the smart kids were and we knew who the not so smart kids were. I for this reason think that it would be best for the teacher to create a system in where the students were not obviously grouped. Perhaps he or she could create individual folders for each student at each center with the appropriate material inside? I am not sure how to fix the labeling, but I can definitely attest to its impact on the class’ self-esteem.

  16. I am taking ‘Methods and Material for Teaching Science’ this semester and we were put in groups our first class to discuss the best options for children to learn science to keep their attention. One of my classmates had suggested learning centers and it made me come back to read this article and the blogs that were posted. I do think that it is a great learning tool for kids, I know that I personally, have a short attention span so I would rather have learned that way to keep me entertained.

  17. I believe centers are very beneficial. Centers are very helpful for students that are having trouble because it can help meet the needs of the students that are struggling. Centers can also help the teacher understand what are the students’ strengths and weaknesses. I also believe having centers can help students be more independent because it gives the students the opportunity to choose activities and books they have the most interest in and learn the material in the way they learn best.

  18. I think that learning centers are a great teaching/learning technique for both the teacher and the students! It not only is a great way to make lessons a little bit more fun for the students but it is also a chance for the students to socialize and interact with their peers. My neice was telling me about the centers in her classroom that she takes part in and she told me she made one of her best friends while working along side her :) They are learning and having fun and thats what it should always be about!

  19. i think that learning centers are a good tool for elementary teachers to use. They allow students to work indepdently and in groups. Centers also allow teachers to see students strengths and weaknesses and give them more one on one attention that they need because the rest of the class is on task at a different center, they also keep the students interested and alert and promote good conversation with their peers

  20. I believe that flexibility is the key component for successful education offered by learning centers. I was interested in learning that the centers can be organized in multiple ways. Teachers have the opportunity to tailor his or her classroom dependent upon the needs of the students. If students are purely independent, children may have trouble guiding themselves. An example would be one suggested in the blog discussing students who read independently. Learning centers have the opportunity to increase interest and concentration in class. Imagine a child with ADHD and how successful they would be if they constantly circulated throughout the centers.
    I thought it was interesting to read in the closing paragraphs about grouping students according to ability in guided reading groups. Although children at times may seem as unaware, they are perceptive and responsive of his or her peer’s abilities. From personal experience, I knew at a young age where I fit according to class intelligence rankings. Teachers should be sensitive as they label and position students. The identification should be beneficial rather than destructive to the child’s learning experiences.

  21. Learning centers work great if set up correctly. Children do not have to work with the same group, they can work independently in a center. There does not have to be a separation of higher and lower level readers or math skills etc. For example, there are phonics cards in one center at the 2nd grade class I observe in. The children are given several colored cards to work on. The teacher chooses a set of cards for each child based on their skills but they are given a variety of cards each time. Child “A” may need to work on short vowel sounds so he is given a blue and and a green card with those sounds. Child “B” may be working on letter blends with an orange and yellow card. It works well for all the students in this particular class.

  22. The use of centers is a great idea to have in the classroom. It’s one of my favorite parts of the day in my classrooms because it allows the students to run their own show. Students seem the most engaged when they are working in groups and when they can talk about what they are working on. Centers are also great because it allows you, as the teacher, to walk around and help the students that are in particular need. You can also control how long or short you want the centers for and switch up the groups every so often so they feel comfortable with everybody in the class. I remember having centers in school when I was a kid and it was memorable for me because it was a fun way of learning.

  23. I love the idea of using learning centers. My opinion is that any way to break students into small groups can be beneficial. From my own personal experience I have always found learning centers beneficial as both a student and a teacher. I think most students are more likely to become involved in discussions in small groups and they are all forced to be more active when in groups. This setting allows teachers the freedom to float around and observe and guide learning, rather that lecturing.

  24. I like the idea of using centers in an elementary classroom, particularly if the center groups are not divided by ability. I think it would be more beneficial to vary the arrangement of the groups. Having the same groups of students working together seems as though it would get a bit tiresome. By working in different groups, students will have the chance to develop relationships with more of their classmates, and may be able to teach each other.

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