Growing Independent Learners

A Debbie Diller Approach to Kindergarten Literacy Centers

Literacy Centers: The Struggle

This year I was really struggling with my existing model of literacy centers. I did not feel that students were on task, following directions, remaining engaged or being held accountable for any of their learning. In the past, I have really loved this part of our day, but I was feeling overwhelmed and stressed at the constant noise level and chaos with this group during this time. I was unable to focus on my small groups due to constant reminders and various interuptions. I had tried a variety of approaches; I met weekly and even bi-weekly with our fabulous reading coach, Dana Barnes. We continued to tweak my system and we saw improvements, but I still did not feel the effectiveness would last once it was back to one adult in the classroom during this time. I spent many hours reading a researching different ideas, management tools and methods for this very important time block of my day. I was then presented with the opportunity to read Debbie Diller’s newest book "Growing Independent Learners".

Literacy Centers: The Solution

Literacy Centers: The Solution

This book spoke to me from the first paragraph. What I quickly appreciated about this system is that it does not take away the creativity and freedom of the students during this time. In fact, it encourages it. While my first year of teaching I did start my centers very simple, I have noticed over the years it has become increasingly complicated. Center time takes up a majority of my planning before and after school, center time is the biggest source of stress during the day, center time is differentiated in every space for every kid for every activity, center time is full of paperwork, center time is full of new activities, new rules. Center time has spiraled out of control for me, and Debbie Diller made me quickly realize that the most important thing I could do was step back, slow down and head back to the basics....but do the basics thoroughly, efficiently and academically effective for kids.

Our flowers can’t bloom if we don’t have the stems, we can’t have the stems without the roots, we can’t have the roots without the water and we have nothing to water without our seed in the soil. Such a seemingly simple concept was so profound for me. I was working to meet the demands of my students, admin, district and state so I was jumping right in hoping for my flowers to bloom without properly tending to my garden first.

So, here is what I have learned:


· Focus on the environment of your classroom, map it out and move it to be clean, tidy & efficient. Climate plays a huge role in our students performance.


· Standards first, know your goal

· Curriculum second, where do your standard outcomes come into play in your curriculum?

· Kids, how do they learn best


· Whole Group Instruction, this is where the roots of your centers are being spread. Students will “play teacher” in the center if you do a quality job during whole group. Centers, making meaning, pathways should all tie in together.

· What we plant in whole group, will grow in center time.


· Differentiate here. We are spending so much time differentiating every center for every kid; we need to channel that planning into effective small group instruction. Students should be partnered with a like-ability student; this will automatically differentiate their performance at each center. Word work can be taken from small group into their center for continued differentiation, does not need to be separate activities.

Planting a Garden in Room 39

I quickly implemented these ideas into my classroom and I have seen immediate results. The most noticeable being the engagement and noise level. I have had much fewer behavior issues during this time because all students are engaged in their activity.

· I regrouped my students instead of having them with people to carry them through the centers, they are now with partners that they can lean on and work together for an outcome.

· I redid my management board for what felt like the 1,000 time this year, but the first successful time. Each set of partners has the cards listed for what centers they will be doing in which order, this has given them more freedom to move on when ready and less interruption of my small groups to get everyone cleaned up and rotating.

· We currently have three Diller approved centers up and running successfully and independently. They are buddy reading, I Spy (word work) and Story Mapping.

· We spent a full week on introducing each center, recreating 10 of each one so all students could practice simultaneously with constant feedback from the teacher.

· Students are happy, independent, practicing social skills, academic language and meeting quarterly standards all from the changes that have been made to an hour time block of our day.

I have many plans to dive deeper into this model, especially from the beginning of the next school year. I believe that the planning, research and reading this year from various sources and the inspiration of Debbie Diller’s book and attending her literacy conference I will find much more success during literacy centers! I’m excited to watch all 19 of my seeds grow!