Academic journal article Childhood Education

Engaging Primary Students: Learning Resource Centers

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Engaging Primary Students: Learning Resource Centers

Article excerpt

Instead of simply pushing groups of children through a set curriculum, many teachers are now looking to use developmentally appropriate techniques.

Imagine a kindergartner planning and constructing a model airplane and then working hard to sound out the spelling of, "This is a plane. I made it out of tubes," instead of filling out letter-of-the-day worksheets. Imagine a 1st-grader devouting Ramona and Her Father (Cleary, 1975) and then asking what else Beverly Cleary has written, instead of being limited by what the others in his group are ready to read. Imagine a 2nd-grader selecting a type of bird to research, creating a life-size model, and writing a report detailing what she has learned, instead of answering fill-in-the-blank questions about eagles as part of the science theme for February.

The Evolution of ideas in Education

For many years, teachers followed the notion that knowledge was something to be transmitted to students, and so they relied on teaching methods that treated children as passive learners. Education meant transferring knowledge and skills from the expert teacher to the naive student. Dewey (1938) and Piaget (1948), however, both believed that children actively construct their knowledge of the world. Consequently, more and more teachers began treating children as active learners, creating environments that support meaningful, hands-on learning (Heuwinkel, 1996).

Instead of simply pushing groups of children through a set curriculum, many teachers are now looking to use developmentally appropriate techniques (Bredekamp & Coppie, 1997). In doing so, teachers keep in mind general expectations for the whole group, and work to find appropriate challenges for each individual. Learning becomes an interactive process. In addition, teachers want their students to develop solid skills that can be applied in many different ways. Their goal is education for understanding (Gardner, 1991), rather than acquisition of skills that can be used only in the narrow context in which they were learned. In short, many teachers are becoming facilitators of learning, rather than transmitters of facts and formulas.

High Expectations

As teachers work on making education more child-centered, they are faced with very high expectations. Administrators and parents expect children in the early primary grades to master reading, writing, and mathematics skills, as well as skills in other subject areas. Teachers attempting to implement school, district, or national standards for kindergarten through 3rd grade face a daunting task when considering how to do so in a developmentally appropriate manner. Feeling pressure to cover the curriculum, they often rely on the familiar teacher-directed methods that they themselves experienced (Gardner, 1996). New techniques that support active learning, while allowing for real accountability, are needed to supplement or replace the old ones.

Learning Resource Centers

Learning resource centers are one method for supporting meaningful learning in primary classrooms (Sloane & Budde, 1995). A center is an area in the classroom where students find authentic materials useful for studying a particular subject. A math center in a 1st-grade classroom, for example, may contain a variety of materials that support hands-on, concrete mathematical activities (e.g., pattern blocks, math cubes, geo-boards, and base ten blocks). The materials are not put away, only to be used when the teacher brings them out, but rather are organized and accessible any time the children work in that center.

Center-based classrooms contain specific centers that are always available; examples include-reading, writing and publishing, and math centers. Construction centers with materials for sewing, woodworking, and building also can become permanent fixtures. Centers organized around topics that children are studying in science, social studies, or the fine arts will change throughout the year as the study topics change. …

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