You have won an Extreme Classroom Makeover! Those are the words that many teachers only imagine hearing, but for rookie teacher Kristen Dodson at Pyburn Elementary actually hearing those words was a dream come true.
During a weeklong workshop for elementary teachers presented by veteran educator April DeCesare, owner of Innovative Learning Solutions – a professional development company based in California – Dodson was randomly selected for an Extreme Classroom Makeover.
“Rather than having teachers sit in a conference listening to philosophers and theorists lecture about what they should be doing in their classrooms, we actually show them how to use what they have to create an environment that is conducive to learning,” DeCesare said.
DeCesare and her team spent nearly seven hours transforming Dodson’s first grade classroom into a colorful learning environment focusing on students’ individual strengths. “My classroom is more open, colorful and very well organized,” Dodson said.
As the transformation began, the team created Smart Centers, which are stations allowing the students to work independently and cooperatively in small groups while following simple oral directions. DeCesare’s Smart Centers cover topics such as science, social studies, math, literacy and language arts, and are packaged in small plastic storage boxes, which contain materials for reading, writing and activity challenges.
Each Smart Center is designed to integrate skills students will encounter on the TAKS test. This technique also helps build vocabulary and improve comprehension. “The key is integrating reading and writing skills learned in the Smart Center into every subject,” DeCesare said. “We’re teaching math, science and social studies teachers that they don’t strictly teach those specific subjects. We’re helping them understand that they also teach reading and writing.”
According to DeCesare, integrating Smart Centers into classrooms increases test scores. “Preliminary research shows a 27% increase in reading and writing scores in one district in Texas. The results from that study will be made public later this spring, but we’re excited about results.”
First grade teacher Jennifer Abernathy from Normandy Crossing Elementary was among ten teachers who looked on as DeCesare instructed Dodson and her students to effectively use the new classroom features. Abernathy explained the hands-on observation was a plus. “It’s good to see how the techniques are implemented in the classroom and how the students are grasping the concepts. I’m looking forward to using what I’ve learned in my own class.”
As for Dodson, DeCesare will provide support to assist her with any questions or concerns throughout the school year. “I know the Smart Centers and integrating reading and writing into all subjects will motivate my kids and encourage them to be independent thinkers,” Dodson said. “I think they’ll be more engaged and be more excited about learning. I can already see that it is boosting self-esteem. I can’t wait to see what it does to test scores.”
TEACHING TRANSFORMED. From left, Dodson, DeCesare, and Janis Gaul, program director for elementary language arts.
EXTRA INSTRUCTION. DeCesare assisted first grade student David Solis as he learned to use the reading smart center.