Dr. Diane Kashin was the first to challenge my thinking about pre-cut materials and activities. My study tour of Reggio Emilia schools deepened my understandings as well.

This week, I’m reflecting on center-based learning. A staple of the primary and elementary classroom, I’m familiar with many middle and high school teachers who use centers to engage learners and differentiate instruction as well. I was one of those teachers, and I support many more.

I’ve also wondered how we might elevate the learning that happens within those spaces, though. Those who have worked with me on the ground  know that I value center-based learning, but that experience has taught me just how hard it is to design high quality centers and facilitate them well. All too often, they become a a repository for work sheets and rote activities that, while leveled, have little to do with inquiry, creativity, or critical thinking.

This was one of my greatest Reggio reflections: How we center our centers matters.

Many teachers design centers around specific content that must be learned, concepts, or themes. I did this as well. The ateliers I explored on my study tour were designed very differently, though.

They centered around any number of languages, and the effect was striking. As I explained earlier, materials matter. So does subjectivity, perspective, point of view, and choice. Play matters for so many reasons, including this: When we’re tinkering, sparks fly. New ideas emerge and connect, and when we fiddle around with them, they mix and remix and generate a bunch of new and different ideas.

Are our centers inspiring this kind of thinking?

How might they?

What if teachers didn’t have to change up or swap out the materials and resources they place in their centers unit by unit or week by week or even, day by day? How much time might be saved for far more meaningful curriculum design work?

What if we centered our centers around carefully selected materials and resources and tools instead? What if the challenges that we presented learners changed, but the stuff that they used to shape and share their thinking remained the same? And what if those materials were far more dynamic? What if they inspired, as our pedagogistas suggested, a sort of contemporaneous activity that generated far more creative and critical thought?

What if we centered around light, reflection, magnification, projection? 

What if we centered around color, texture, sound, and figurative language?

What if we sustained centers that included tools that could be used in any context, to investigate any content? How would that shift our planning, our learning, and our work? What opportunities would this afford all of us?


This post is part of a series that I’m building one entry at a time. You’ll find all of them here, as I draft them. Taking some time to pause between each post has made space for more meaningful reflection and good conversations with people who share a passion for this work. If that’s you, please let me know. I’d love to talk with you. 


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