Debbie Diller's Practice with Purpose: Literacy Work Stations for Grades 3-6 details how to use literacy centers to practice skills. Key components of her approach are that the stations are used for practice, not to teach; that modeling is essential for the approach working properly; and that grading every product is not necessary. Seven of the chapters describe a variety of literacy stations. Each of these chapters includes a rationale, what students should do, how to set it up, materials, how to introduce and model the station, mini lessons around the work station, advice on how to solve common problems that may occur, ways to keep the station going throughout the year, how the station helps student performance on state tests and a reflection and dialogue section. The text is a comprehensive approach to incorporating stations into the literacy classroom. For teachers who are concerned about classroom management, the section about solving common problems is well done and offers useful advice.
Often teachers at the upper elementary and lower middle school levels switch from the differentiated, small group approach that primary teachers favor to increasingly large amounts of whole group instruction. While whole group instruction is a useful way to provide instruction, mixing it with small group and partner activities and stations provide these students with movement and variety that their young minds and bodies need. Additionally, differentiation is easier to incorporate when small groups are an integral part of the instructional framework. The key is planning. Without carefully thought out environments and activities, stations will fail. Incorporating stations into content area instruction provides an opportunity to address literacy needs of students while meeting the content area curriculum. As CCSS becomes more integrated into our classrooms, this is an interesting and useful idea.
One of the very useful elements of the text is the listing of books to support the stations. Poetry, drama, and content area books are all identified to support learning. References to pedagogical books are also included to offer information for further research. As a bibliophile, I love being pointed to other references of interest. The only damage is to my wallet.
Although I have not run a large group class in years, I had the opportunity to help a young teacher set up stations in her classroom this year. This book reinforced some of what I did and makes me wish for such an opportunity again. Although targeting literacy teachers in grades 3-6, I can see how this approach could be easily adapted to content area classes through middle school, especially since CCSS has pushed literacy instruction into the content areas. A good read that has earned its space on my reference shelf, I am intrigued with ideas of how I can incorporate the ideas into my instruction.