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Literacy Centers for All Learners

By Margaret Esquibel
 | Aug 28, 2018

Student literacy centers for all learners? How? Why? Where do I begin?

As defined by Debbie Diller in her 2003 book, Literacy Work Stations: Making Centers Work (Stenhouse), “A literacy center work station is an area within the classroom where students work alone or interact with one another, using instructional materials to explore and expand their literacy.” However, sometimes it is hard to fathom how our students will behave, collaborate, and engage in critical and higher order thinking without our affirmation and guided scaffolding. Nevertheless, sometimes change is positive, and students will thank us for the opportunity to engage in meaningful and student-centered work.

In my personal experience, my students engaged in daily authentic collaborative discussions; however, I knew there was something missing. As I reflected on my teaching, I noticed I was having trouble balancing my small group while the rest of my students worked on one activity. Meanwhile, our lower grade house was being recognized for its effective student centers, which our administration wanted to implement throughout the elementary school. I sat with clammy hands and a doubtful mindset because this was now an expectation, and they would see to it that we followed through with the plan.

I first sought out assistance to organize and plan out literacy centers with my academic coach. I planned. I set up. I was blown away as I watched as the students worked diligently. I was invisible, and the students relied on each other to accomplish their task at hand. I sat with my small group, targeting the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) they struggled with, and the students were able to rotate and work on a variety of mastery literacy skills, such as writing, vocabulary, technology, poetry, etc., that would have usually taken them a week to accomplish. More importantly, I was able to set up centers that targeted my students’ needs, and they were able to work independently and collaboratively with their peers.

I quickly observed a positive engagement shift, student collaboration, discovery using available resources, and excitement of their learning being student-led, rather than direct teach. After witnessing the amazing results, I began to seek out research that describes literacy centers for upper elementary students, including what they look like in upper grade levels (considering centers are most common in lower primary grades). Unfortunately, there was not enough research that supported upper elementary literacy centers, therefore, I adapted existing ideas and evidence-based practices to fit my students’ needs.

The implication of literacy centers helped my students become more independent, accountable, and responsible. All my students reported that they enjoyed the literacy centers and agreed that their favorite part was seeing their reading skills improve. More importantly, my findings showed positive improvement in their literacy skills, engagement, and sense of independence.

Moving forward, I hope to make the literacy centers more engaging, effective, and efficient for the next school year, and I am content in knowing that my students will go into fifth grade with academic and social skills that will define a better future for them. I believe literacy centers helped drive my instruction more authentically, and my reflections helped me gain insight on how to differentiate my instruction so that all my students can assume responsibility in their learning.

Literacy centers for all learners

  • Small group with teacher (TEKS mastery)
  • Writing center/writer’s workshop
  • Technology (inquiry/research, etc.)
  • Word work/vocabulary center
  • Comprehension skills (poetry, drama, expository, etc.)
  • Read to self/partner/independently

Margaret Esquibel is a fourth-grade teacher at the Southwest Independent School District in Bexar County, Texas. 

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