Early Learning
Learning Center by Numbers

As a classroom teacher, you have access to an incredible volume of information and numbers. You have demographic information, state test scores, norms, stanines, percentiles, attendance records, running records…each child in your class is a collection unto herself. Add in data reporting from an adaptive program like iRead, and you may simply ask yourself: What is one to do with all this data? 

Raw data on a spreadsheet is fascinating. A trained eye can gauge (assess) the ability, needs, maybe even behavioral habits of the children in your class just by analyzing numbers, but in a real-world classroom, your time is better spent planning in response to data. iRead's suite of class and student analytics as well as grouping tools were designed to streamline that process. Directly from the reports or the Groupinator, targeted lessons are suggested. However, we also know that young children learn through practice or repetition, and play serves as one of the best modes for that critical repetition. The "Learning Center Ideas," outlined in the Professional Guide and available for download on SAM Central, provide play-based opportunities to extend learning, forming the bridge between targeted instruction and the serious fun of learning to read. 

Why Learning Centers?
Learning centers can be engaging and social interactions for children to acquire new information. From the teachers point of view, they are also opportunities for students to work  independently while you provide focused instruction with your small groups. Although a "Building Blocks" station or dress up corner can be fun and serve as a great reward, targeting learning centers to accelerate, reinforce, and provide explicit practice in reading skills will promote  academic achievement during your English Language Arts time because children need multiple trials to achieve mastery. That is not to say that children need to complete worksheets  to reinforce these skills and topics; activities can be framed as games to great effect as discussed in the blog post, "Can I Play iRead?"

Fostering Home to School Connections
We know that families can also boost children’s reading development at home. To foster a home-school connection, you can provide  recommendations to parents and guardians to incorporate foundational reading games into their everyday routine. For example, to reinforce phonemic awareness at the supermarket, have children pair groceries with the same beginning or ending sound. Parents can use snack time to practice syllable identification: have the child lay out a small snack (Cheerio, for example) for each syllable she hears in a word, and have her say what's left when she "eats" a syllable. These little moments provide critical practice, but they also develop the association between reading and fun.

Picking "Just Right" Games
Just like Goldilocks, we know that many times we have to sample several options before the "just right" one is discovered. However, both the Groupinator and the Software Performance Report are the best tools to guide selecting "just right" learning centers. Depending on the students' needs, you may want to pick centers that accelerate towards a new, related skill, provide explicit practice on a newly-taught skill, or reinforce a skill with which a child had difficulty in the initial cycle on the software or from Small-Group Instruction.

The first consideration is who is working independently and when. Use the Groupinator suggestions as a guideline, but the final groups and schedule are based on your best judgement. Second, you want to ensure that the learning center aligns with the children’s progress and your objective for them.

For example, you might plan that while you are working with Group 1, you decide to facilitate games for Groups 2 and 3 based on the targeted lesson you have planned for them later in the week. Groups 4 and 5 will work on the software. Based on the Groupinator, you plan on teaching Group 2 a lesson to reinforce the digraph /sh/, which falls under the Decoding and Spelling skill strand. After reviewing the options in your Professional Guide, you decide on the Digraph Spin board game because its learning outcome is "Decode one-syllable words with consonant digraphs." Then, if ready to challenge others, this is a great activity as it  previews /ch/ and /th/ as well. You can download and print from SAM Central and set it up for pairs of students in Group 2 as a learning center.

Gradual Release
As you review Learning Center options, consider the complexity of the instructions in addition to the center’s connection to children’s needs. For example, memory games or variations on Go Fish! may be easier to roll out because the rules are more intuitive and children may have already played something similar at home. Ultimately, the goal is to facilitate fun and engaging activities for students to complete independently or with a partner, and the "Learning Center Ideas" in the Professional Guide provide a framework to ensure that those activities align with children’s needs.

When you peek up from your small group to monitor the room, you want to see active engagement, lively conversation, and smiles. Share your active centers. Don't hesitate to send your questions to educatorcommunity@hmhco.com.    


Dr. Anne Cunningham is nationally recognized for her research on literacy and development in early childhood. Her research examines the cognitive and motivational processes underlying reading ability and the interplay of context, development, and literacy instruction. Dr. Cunningham has served on several early childhood expert panels, including the National Early Literacy Panel. Her expertise informed the entire Big Day for PreK program with specific emphasis on phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, assessment, and professional development.

  • Featured Items
    Math@Work: Math Meets Entrepreneurship
    Watch the Sharks from ABC’s Shark Tank team up with HMH Math in Math@Work Meets
    Resource: One Pager Final Exam
    Make student exams interactive and engaging with this ONE PAGER project. This can be implemented with any book for independent reading.
    READ 180 Universal Demo
    An overview of READ 180 that teachers can share with their students at the beginning of the course.
    System 44 Students with Dyslexia
    Dyslexia, Hard Work, System 44: A Student's Memoir