A learning center is a self-contained section of the classroom in which students engage in independent and self-directed learning activities.
A learning center is a space set aside in the classroom that allows easy access to a variety of learning materials in an interesting and productive manner. Learning centers are usually designed to offer a variety of materials, designs, and media through which students can work by themselves or with others to operationalize the information learned in the classroom. Centers are designed to enhance the learning of concepts, skills, themes, or topics. This learning can take place after a topic is presented to students, during the course of presenting important concepts, or as an initial introduction to material in the text.
Learning centers can have any number of designs, each limited only by your creativity and imagination. Feel free to work with your students in creating a center they will want to use. Such shared responsibility assures that students have a sense of ownership in the center and will be more willing to engage in the resultant activities.
Most teachers will agree that there are three different types of learning centers: enrichment centers, skill centers, and interest and exploratory centers.
Enrichment centers are designed to offer students a variety of learning alternatives as an adjunct to a common unit of instruction. These centers are typically used after the presentation of important materials or concepts and are designed to provide students with opportunities to enrich and enhance their appreciation and understanding of the topics through individual experiences in the center. For example, after you have presented a lesson on the life cycle of plants, you might assign individual students to a center with the following components:
Construction of a terrarium using soil, several plants, rocks, etc.
Observing several plants under the microscope
Designing an individual observation kit for use in the field
Preparation of several foods using different types of common plants
Exploring various news articles on plants in our daily lives
Creative writing on the uses and misuses of plants in modern society
Watching a filmstrip on the ecological implications of acid rain on plant life
Painting a mural on the stages of plant growth
Enrichment centers require you to be aware of your students' learning styles (see Chapter 2) as well as their knowledge about a topic. The enrichment center can provide individual students with varied activities or combination of activities that differ from those pursued by other students. As such, the center becomes an individualized approach to the promotion of the topic.
Skill centers are typically used at the elementary level, more so than at the secondary level. Students may work on math facts, phonics elements, or other tasks requiring memorization and/or repetition.
Skill centers are similar to enrichment centers in that they are used after the initial teaching of a concept or skill. Their difference lies in the fact that students are assigned particular areas in the center as opposed to having free choice of the topics they want to pursue. Thus, after introductory instruction on a particular concept has taken place, you can assign students to various parts of the center to help reinforce the information presented. You must be aware of the various skill needs of your students to effectively assign individuals to the areas in the center through which they can strengthen and enhance these skills.
Interest and Exploratory Centers
Interest and exploratory centers differ from enrichment and skill development centers in that they are designed to capitalize on the interests of students. They may not necessarily match the content of the textbook or the curriculum; instead they provide students with hands-on experiences they can pursue at their own pace and level of curiosity. These types of centers can be set up throughout the classroom, with students engaging in their own selection of activities during free time, upon arrival in the morning, as a “free-choice” activity during the day, or just prior to dismissal. These centers allow students to engage in meaningful discoveries that match their individual interests.
The success of this form of learning center depends on your knowledge of your students' interests. You might want to use student interests that will help pinpoint the specific areas you can use in the design of relevant centers. A paper-and-pencil inventory can provide you with important information about their interests.