Literacy Work Stations: Making Centers Work by Debbie Diller

Appropriate for teachers K – 2, possibly 3

In this professional resource, Debbie Diller highlights best practice theories for independent literacy activities and gives ‘how to’ instructions on making your literacy centers or ILAs (Independent Literacy Activities) work. She outlines tips for getting many different centers started with ideas, materials, and instructions on teaching students how to use each center. She has also included ideas on how to keep it running throughout the year. This book is geared toward primary teachers who must lay a lot more ground work to get their students working independently.

My personal connection: Debbie Diller is one of my favorite gurus! When I first came across this book, I thought, “Oh, this is for new teachers or teachers who don’t know how to run a balanced literacy block. It’s not for me.” So although I love Debbie Diller, I left it on the shelf. This year has been full of transitions with the new GLEs (grade level expectations), which outlined new units, and new instructional focuses, which led to new report cards . . . All the ‘new’ things we’ve had to sift through this year made me want to fall back on the old and familiar. I came across this book again and decided that reading it now would be like slipping on my comfortable old slippers. Just what I need to soothe my frazzled mind, I thought. And while the basis for her instructional practices confirmed my educational beliefs and practices soothing my frazzled mind, the ideas for implementing literacy centers was just the spark I needed to infuse my teaching! The “Creation Work Station,” ” Science/Social Studies Work Station,” “Writing Work Station,” and “Classroom Library,” sections in particular gave me great ideas for making improvements to my ILAs.

She also reminded me of some important lessons that I sometimes gloss over:

Less is more— don’t put out too much stuff or put too many things in the ILA at once. The kids won’t know what to do with it, they’ll lose interest, or they won’t use the ILA correctly.

Link their independent work to your teaching: Although I do this, I realized as I read this book that I don’t always capitalize on this the way that I should to get the most bang for my buck. Making direct and explicit connections from our mini lesson to what the students will do at their ILAs is the smarter (not harder) way to make that teaching moment more powerful. For example, we are studying the structures and patterns in fairy tales. Using a fairy tale text map, my class and I looked for the common themes that make up fairy tales in order to understand them better. (See the “Fairy Tales & Fables Unit” post.) To solidify that learning, during ILAs, the students read fairy tales, filled out their own fairy tale text map, wrote their own fairy tales using the same fairy tale text map, listened to fairy tales at the listening center, created stick puppets to retell a fairy tale, and read a fairy tale play with a buddy at the buddy reading center. By connecting the students’ independent work so explicitly to the mini lesson I just taught, it solidified their learning.

I tend to get lazy with my ILAs when things get stressful, and I feel like there’s just no time (sound familiar?). When I let things drift, I just let students ‘read something’ at the library center, or ‘write something’ at the writing center. But the changes I made at the students’ ILAs for this unit were very low maintenance for me. I simply adjusted my expectations, and it made that center novel for the students, and packed a powerful learning punch!

So while reading this book did feel as good as slipping on my comfortable old slippers, the effect it had on my teaching was more invigorating than soothing.

Check out the following posts to see how I implemented some of Debbie Diller’s ideas into my classroom:

Don’t forget to share your ideas with me too! Just post a comment.

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