Centers and mini-groups: A close look at each child

Small groups of no more than 6 students, gathered to explore a certain topic, with freedom to investigate, make connections, and propose solutions to questions and challenges. Always very closely monitored by a teacher, who keeps a careful, alert, and attentive eye on each child, helping them in their individual development. These are the “centers”, an organizational practice carried out with the be.Living Elementary School classes, which allows us to make each of our children’s education process more personal.

“For some time now, our educational team has been reflecting and planning ways to turn the school into a space that understands how each child learns and, based on this, facilitate their learning processes individually. Thus, that old lecture-class model becomes just one more tool – and no longer the only way to teach. During this exercise, we understood the power of working with centers, an arrangement that strongly contributes to building active and participatory students’, Gabriela Fernandes, Elementary School coordinator at be.Living, explains.

According to the coordinator, this proposal allows students to go beyond absorbing information, to feeling encouraged to also perform activities with freedom of thought, exchange with their peers and understand that the concept of “classroom” means a space to practice and share knowledge.

“The main purpose of the centers is to provide a different learning path, through which children can exchange with their peers, raise hypotheses and learn to do research in a really meaningful manner. It is a learning practice related to the first stage of knowledge acquisition: investigation. When we arrange the children in different groups, they can achieve this goal. This is a positive investigation activity, both among children at the same learning level and among children at different levels in their knowledge development”.

Gabi says that centers are an extremely broad educational tool that can integrated into the learning routine with multiple purposes and in different ways. However, the main goal is always to develop an independent and thoughtful attitude by the children, who manage to learn with and from each other, having the teacher as someone who flows among them, guides and evaluates them with quality of presence, through a very close approach to each group and each child.

“Working with smaller groups allows teachers to carry out more effective evaluations. The fact that teachers are right close to the children, thinking of good interventions for each specific group, based on what the students are thinking and expressing at the moment is noteworthy and meaningful. So when they are, let’s say, solving a math problem, based on the hypotheses they discuss, the teacher sits down with these 5 or 6 children to intervene as to arouse their curiosity and broaden their thinking, leading the children to complete their knowledge processes while solving that problem. She makes a prompt and assertive intervention that will help the children build their own path for knowledge development.

In practice, the centers are a broad education tool, with multiple possibilities, each one of them being able to propose different activities regarding a common topic, or completely different activities. “A first grade classroom, for example, naturally features very heterogeneous groups. With the centers, we are able to, from a common proposal, that is, from a single topic, produce different sheets with different activities that will reach children at different levels of knowledge. Or we can propose completely different activities for a certain class: while one center is working on math activity, another, is doing a language activity and yet another will work on science. Then, the children can make their choices and, from that, start a cyclical work where all of them will go through all these proposed stations, turning the classroom into a much more attractive and meaningful space for all the children”, Gabi completes.

Meanwhile, in Kindergarten, the “mini-groups” allow the little ones to be closely observed by the teachers, enabling a more personal experience that strengthens bonds with adults and peers, among many other benefits for learning.

Our Early Childhood Education coordinator, Camila Maia, explains that, besides strengthening bonds, working in smaller groups also promotes new partnerships among the children and enables a more specific observation by the teacher and a greater freedom by the children, as activities become less adult-centered.

“Mini-groups are organized by the teachers, with a focus on broadening partnerships, enabling children to look, play and interact with each other, and, at times, also taking into account each child’s learning process. We can gather children who are just discovering of reading and writing processes, for example, with a child in a more advanced stage in this sense, so they can help each other”.

Camila says that in smaller groups, children feel safer and more comfortable to raise questions, share hypotheses, or talk about an experience. “With fewer people at that moment of communication, it gets less intimidating. It also reduces conflict. Young children, in general, better organize themselves to play in small groups, and as they interact more closely, they learn to share”.

For the teachers, mini-groups are of utmost importance, as they help to understand how the children are relating to the different objects of knowledge and to the learning processes.

“What are the questions? What are the mistakes the children are making? How are they addressing these mistakes? What interventions can we take to the larger group, based on what could be observed in the smaller group? Mini-groups, therefore, allow the teachers to actually look and listen to what each child is saying individually. Topics that, sometimes, in a larger group, are not feasible, because the teacher must to keep an eye on the movement, interactions, and dynamics of the group. In a smaller group, educators can be much closer to each child and, consequently, meet their specific needs more precisely.

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