Put a classroom full of those thinking approaches together for a shared brain storm and you get solutions, out of the box thinking, and variations of approaches from different perspectives and learning modalities by 9 year olds. Amazing to see children solve some of the world's problems by just thinking. It has the added bonus of grandly increasing self esteem no matter what your grades are. You get cooperation and collaboration in teams in an at risk poverty environment.
Much of my job for a week was forming small groups for various programs that were campus wide. We looked at scores for the past 6 weeks, personality, issues at home, issues with teachers and other studnets, and carefully placed students into groupings. We made decisions such as delaying math tutoring until reading scores improved. It was always a celebration when a student scores rose rapidly--though it messed up the list we were glad.
Activity centers maximize learning opportunities. It does take management by the teacher and it must be aligned with data to the needs of the classroom. First and foremost, having students wait on other students to finish papers or learn is a waste of that student's time when they could be learning something new or expanding the level of their thinking independently. Secondly, in any classroom a set of students exist that need instructional conversation from the teacher to scaffold learning.
Looking at data or a grade tells you almost nothing about what is truly going on with a student. It is a number for the public. A snapshot of a moment in time informing the public what a student did that day. Rubrics change all that. A rubric tells a student in language what to do or what is expected. It serves as a document for a teacher to write reports from. It tells a parent what is going on in the classroom.
At Ashbel Smith Elementary this program was implemented and students became much higher level in their thinking to the point they would question teachers about what they were doing. :) Then the parents caught on and questioned us on programs. The initial result was extreme uncomfortableness as we realized some of our practices were detrimental but it lead to a path of using better programs and teaching methods. It takes 3 to 5 years to change a large system.
Do not create it in the first place unless necessary. You need paper for independent work, and some testing. Otherwise you are to do activities, simulations and questioning. Digitize as much as possible. In most states homework counts for 10 percent or less of a grade. It should only be for maintenance or repetition items like spelling and basic facts.Classroom work and tests along with projects count the most. That is state law in Texas and many other states.
Reading is the foundation of academics, but it has to be more than phonics. It has to be comprehension. Beyond comprehension is manipulating language into new forms to make it usable. The new trend is mixing old information with new information and synthesizing something intriguing that gives a bit of the past but moves us forward into the future.
No matter how hard you try the culture of school tries to force you to over pattern and repeat endless dribble. It is the beast every teacher faces. At times you let that happen because teaching is physically demanding and your brain needs a rest. Joining an organization in your specialty helps prevent that becoming a habit. You may have your mindless robotic pattern time for moments BUT you may not do that to students ever or promote that philosophy.