Centers are areas of the room that are dedicated to learning a specific topic or developing a specific skill. Creating centers in the special ed classroom will provide students with the opportunity to not only develop a skill or idea, but also to generalize it in various environments away from their school desks. Doing so also allows students the movement and sensory input that many need in order to successfully attend to a task.
What Types of Centers
When deciding on creating centers in the special ed classroom, it is important to determine educational goals of the students and figure out the best way to incorporate and divide them. If students are working on regular academics, the centers could be divided accordingly with instruction in subjects such as science, social studies and math with reading incorporated into each. If students are working on more functional skills, the centers could represent areas of domestic skills needed to live independently and recreational skills to help students develop their ability to do tasks when they have extra time.
How centers are run in a special education classroom will be greatly determined by the ability of the students to work independently and the amount of staff available. If there is only one teacher in the classroom, only one center can require a large amount of instruction. The other centers should be activities that students can perform alone. If students are unable to do certain activities without assistance from an adult, then they should be given meaningful tasks to work on while instruction is given to another group. Also, pairing students that are able to work independently with less independent students can give the opportunity for social interaction. The student who needs help can work on being assertive and getting assistance when needed and the more independent student can learn the skills on a deeper level by providing help to his or her peers.
In a fourth grade classroom, there are eight students on the autism spectrum. Two students are able to work on the grade level curriculum as it is, three students need accommodations but are able to understand some grade level activities, and the last three are not able to perform at grade level and are working on more functional skills. The classroom has three available teachers. They have decided to divide the class into three different centers: math, science and social studies. Later, they divide into three different reading centers. When organizing the groups, they have divided the two independent learners so they are in groups with students that need a little more help. Those students will often help explain what is being taught in order to work on social goals. Combining the three students that require more functional skills also allows the teachers to focus on subject related tasks that will benefit them the most.
Another example would be in a high school multi-handicapped class that has one teacher and one teaching assistant. This class has students with a variety of needs and educational requirements. The centers available in this classroom are a domestic area where the students have dishes, food, and cleaning supplies. There they are able to practice real life skills in whatever capacity they can. Another center would be recreational skills where students can play games, choose and listen to music or books on tape, and read books or magazines. The third center would be a work area where the teacher could work with two or three students at a time on academic skills. While she is doing that, the teaching assistant can monitor and direct the students in the other two centers.
While looking at the needs of the special education students in your class, try to find common links so that you may address the needs of more than one student at a time. Make sure the materials you want are accessible to those with a variety of disabilities so they may share materials. Also, keep in mind that therapy goals, such as those that an occupational therapist or physical therapist would work on, can often be combined with work done during centers. Transitions between centers can also be a good opportunity to provide needed sensory breaks for students that are unable to have their needs met during centers.