3rd Grade Rotation Learning Centers
If you walk into a 3rd grade classroom at JT Manning you would see some students working independently, others in partners, and a small group working directly with the teacher. They are all very busy and there is a low hum of activity with instructions, reminders from the teacher, students helping one another, and groups discussing their task list displayed on the smart board. Mrs. Halley says, “we are going to do a quick math lesson and then move to rotations” and her students cheer!
After 15 -20 minutes a timer goes off students move to their next activity with encouragement and reminders from the teacher. A third grade educator Mrs. Schultz reminds her students, “we are volume level 1 and moving to your next task” and students move throughout the room and quickly settle into another activity in either math or ELA. This looks different than many of the classrooms these student’s parents’ grew up in but the benefits to students are worth the extra planning and learning curve. Mrs. Halley sums up the benefits of rotations, “Students and teachers benefit from Math and ELA rotations in the classroom. For students, it allows them to collaborate with their peers, gives them personalized learning opportunities, strengthens their autonomy, and taps into their different learning styles. For teachers, it allows us to differentiate our instruction to reach all our students’ learning needs and assists with student engagement.”
Students are able to work in small groups with the teacher which is both helpful for students and teachers. This allows the teacher to check more thoroughly for understanding and offer support individually to students. Additionally, the students are able to speak up more and ask clarifying questions than if it was an entire class activity. Another third grade educator Mrs. Parsetich asks the small group of students to explain why they have the answers they wrote on their dry erase boards and they quickly offer their reasoning. A student shows hesitation in sharing her answer and Mrs. Parsetich is quick to say, “you were right- keep going!” and the students share with more confidence. Mrs. Parsetich tells another student, “go through your different strategies to figure it out. You got this'' then adds, “we are going on to another harder problem because that is how smart you all are!” After solving the challenge problem Colin exclaims, “I’m so smart!” then shares, “your brain is expanding right now” as he explains his strategy to the small group and other students chuckle and high five him.
In Mrs. Schultz's class she works with a group of students using area to create a character on a graph. They are creating a character and then figuring out the area of their creation using practical math skills they are currently working on in class. Mrs. Schultz checks each student’s work and offers encouragement and guidance, “these are awesome ideas!” Mrs. Schultz sees many advantages to the rotations, “I like to teach the concepts in math rotations because I can tailor the lesson to each student and group’s needs and more effectively reach kids. I want students to be doing their own thinking versus writing what they see on the board, which is often what happens in a big group. In a small group I’m able to see real thinking instead of kids just imitating the teacher. I enjoy watching kids think through the problem on their own in order to solve it. It’s also a time during the day where the kids get to talk freely and I get to know them better.” Another 3rd Grade educator Mrs. Tarnow shares, “now more than ever small group instruction is critical in a classroom because I can connect fully with individuals and offer them direct instruction in what they specifically need. I like to intentionally group students together so they can learn from one another. I’ve marveled at children teaching other children skills which in turn solidifies their own learning of a concept.”
Teachers see the value of the centers and rotations but so do students. Aubrey; a 3rd grader in Ms. Parsetich’s class shares, “I really like when we get to do the teacher section and going to play the games with my partner.” Amos; another 3rd grader in Mrs. Halley’s classroom shares, “I really like rotations because it is kind of like a treasure hunt.” Students work in partners on math games designed to reinforce and check understanding on the math and ELA concepts they are studying. They like the freedom, time with the teacher, and the fun of the games and partner work. Chloe says, “the thing I like about math rotations is that we get to get up and spread out and have time with the teacher.” Shayna shares, “I like rotations because I get to work at my own level without being ahead or behind other kids. I also like working with my friends close to my level.” Ms. Parsetich shares that the tasks are designed based on student needs so “these learning centers allow us more freedom to differentiate instruction and learning for the needs of our students.” For example, the students are working on writing articles for a newsletter and Ms. Parsetich assigned different topics to students based on their unique interests so they are more motivated and excited to work on the writing assignment. She shares, “We have an ELA group working on long vowel patterns, another working on diphthongs, and another working on unstressed endings so I can focus on the needs of individual students and help them. In math, it’s based on their assessments and changes based on the content and their understanding of the content. They are able to work on whatever skill they need and we can offer support and focused teaching in small groups.” This model of instruction allows for differentiated instruction.
The students are also developing and building self-discipline, collaboration, and self-advocacy skills as part of this model of instruction. “This method creates some more independence in accomplishing their tasks, “Mrs. Schultz explains. Jayce; a third grader in Mrs. Tarnow’s class shares, “we are reading and learning about MLK and more about Black history” and he checks the smart board and then gets to work reading and answering questions assigned. “They know to ask 3 before me,” shares Ms. Parsetich about her guidelines around asking for help from fellow students when you have a question. One student offers “Can I share a tip?” before rotating to the next activity. Autumn shares, “I really like helping each other out.” Students also like working with partners; Alaya shares, “my favorite rotation is playing games with a partner because I get to know new people in class, not only my friends.” Mrs. Tarnow moves throughout the room after offering small group instruction and feedback and shares her insights, “When I create small groups of children, who are engaged, excited about a task and struggling a bit- but productive- I notice the best results.”
You can see this all play out in so many powerful ways in the classroom and students feel confident both asking for help AND offering guidance to fellow students and collaborating together to accomplish tasks. The power of asking for assistance is building that self-advocacy without always assuming they need a teacher to answer every question. They are becoming more self-reliant and allowing themselves to be shaped into a community of learners which is a powerful skill needed for lifelong learning. Qinnah shares, “I like math rotations because I get to learn new things” and that is a major win as the goal of schooling is not simply filling students with knowledge but creating young people who love the process of learning, take ownership of their learning, and advocate for their learning. Centers with rotations in 3rd Grade are helping to continue to create students who are passionate about learning.