Fitzell Acceleration CentersBy Susan Fitzell
Imagine a dynamic classroom learning environment where traditional lectures and lessons are enhanced by additional projects and activities, aligned to standards. The activities can allow students to:
• apply what they are learning.
• reinforce lessons using different learning styles.
• relate knowledge to the real world.
• accelerate achievement at all levels, from non-responders to the gifted.
This teaching technique is called a Fitzell Acceleration Center™.
Fitzell Acceleration Centers™
An Acceleration Center™ is a designated area, file crate, file drawer, or pocketed bulletin board that provides students with standards-based learning activities, at a range of ability levels, so that students can focus on accelerating achievement towards meeting the standards. Acceleration Centers™ are not more worksheets. Rather, they are activities at varying levels where student learning style is taken into consideration.
Activities may be hands-on, involve manipulatives, include creativity, or come in the form of investigations or challenges that require critical thinking skills. Ideally, Acceleration Centers™ incorporate computer based instruction, often utilizing the one or two computers in the classroom in a way that is impractical with a whole class teaching model. The Acceleration Center™ may be focused on a particular skill area or weakness extracted from the school’s previous years state test data.
For example, secondary students are consistently weak in the areas of fractions and measurements. An Acceleration Center™ may focus completely on fractions and decimals and include activities as basic as matching numeric fractions to a fraction pie or as advanced as the use of decimals in calculus. This fraction / decimal-based Acceleration Center™ provides students who are not making adequate yearly progress with a forum for accelerating those skills as well as providing students who are at the highest level of achievement the opportunity to challenge their potential.
Co-teachers choose pockets of time during the week to assign students to work with the Acceleration Center™. Students can visit the center to complete activities assigned to them based on current assessment data (for example, exit cards or current curriculum-based measurement). Acceleration Centers™ provide teachers with a minimum prep solution to vary levels in the classroom. Students are provided time to work, at their ability level, in small groups or independently, to meet standards.
Acceleration Centers™ are governed by pre-taught and practiced rules and procedures that require students to be responsible and accountable for their own growth. A major advantage of Acceleration Centers™ is the opportunity to give struggling learners a double dose of academic support when they’re struggling to grasp a previously taught concept. It also provides a forum for presenting information to students in a way that is not necessarily possible with a whole class lesson. Acceleration Centers™ provide teachers with a format conducive to spending time with students individually or in small groups. It also opens up an opportunity for teachers to do action research, observations of student learning and behavior, or ongoing immediate assessment.
Tips for Successful Acceleration Centers™
• Reassign partners every four to five weeks.
• Don’t change partners in response to student requests or complaints. Doing so opens up a Pandora’s Box of potential problems.
• Acceleration Center™ assignments must be able to be managed and completed independently. If students cannot manage the assignments by themselves, they will often stop completely or interrupt the teachers and/or other small groups for help. The goal of the center is for students to be able to increase achievement but also for teachers to gain valuable conferencing time or small group work time uninterrupted. Teachers must be able to optimize Acceleration Center™ time.
• Acceleration Centers™ are not thematic nor do they become obsolete at any point during school year. Avoid any seasonal connotation. They are set up for sustainability, requiring minimal prep work when prep for the centers is viewed in light of creating lesson plans suitable for an entire school year.
• Use Acceleration Centers™ to support state standards or curriculum goals from basic to proficient.
• Create procedures and rules for utilizing Acceleration Centers™ with students as part of the process. By doing so, teachers engage students in the process so they are more likely to buy into it.
• If setting up more than one center, start with the first one and practice the rules and procedures using it as a teaching tool.
• As silly as it may sound to a secondary teacher, whether middle school, junior high, or high school, it is imperative to have students practice moving from their seats to the Acceleration Center™ to choose an activity and back to their seats or small groups until they can do it quietly and efficiently. This will typically take 10 or 15 minutes of practice, set up as a timed contest. Use a stop watch and practice until students can run the procedure in three minutes or less. It may be beneficial to incorporate a reward system to maintain proper behavior and efficiency over the course of the school year.
• Keep records of completed assignments and how those assignments align to state standards or curriculum goals.
• Train one or two “student experts” on how the Acceleration Centers™ function. They do not need to know how to do the academic portion of the center; rather, they need to teach other students how to follow the instructions in the folders, how to keep the center organized, and how to explain the logistics of the center to other students. The “student expert” makes it possible for students to work without interrupting the teacher while the teacher is coaching others.
Acceleration Center™ Components
Individualized student goal charts: Goal charts are divided into three sections: required, optional, and choose 1, 2, or 3. There are two chart levels; one for self-starters, and a different one for students who need more support. Charts for students who need more support, especially reading support, might include illustrations, have additional required components, and have fewer optional activities. Do not reduce choices for students who need more support because choices are motivational. (Goal Chart Symbols: LS= Learning Support, IL= Independent Learner.)
Coaching session: Teacher conferencing or teacher led small-group. Coaching sessions offer teachers the opportunity to lead individuals or small groups of students in assignments appropriate to their achievement level.
Written response journals: This component allows students the opportunity to practice written response skills required to meet state standards and written response goals for math, english, language arts, social studies, or science.
Independent reading or study: This option provides students with the opportunity to improve reading skills and/or provide time to study. (Vocabulary words, flash cards, etc.) If this option is used for study, students should use strategies based on their learning style. It would be a waste of Acceleration Center™ time to have students study ineffectively. Avoid having students study by completing worksheets, staring at their book, writing things three times each, or using any number of ineffective strategies that student typically use to fail. Students who are working on reading skills should be using materials at, or just slightly above, their reading level.
It is imperative that teachers know the readability levels of the texts that students are reading.
Acceleration component: Assignment in this component is targeted to address student difficulties and accelerate student learning.
To download your own copy of the worksheets, click HERE.
About Susan Fitzell…
Susan Fitzell is a nationally recognized speaker and author of several educational resource books. She has over two decades of experience with differentiated instruction, teaching youth with special needs, students with behavioral and anger management issues, and students who experience bullying. Susan’s company, AIMHI Educational Programs, focuses on building caring school communities. aimhieducational.com
Susan Fitzell, M. Ed.
Author, Educational Consultant & Professional Speaker
PO Box 6182, Manchester, NH 03103 USA
Keep up with Susan!
Susan’s website www.SusanFitzell.com
Susan’s blog www.hightestscores.org