A gathering place is an open space large enough for the whole class to gather while sitting on the floor. It includes a chart rack and whiteboard for focus lessons, class-created anchor charts, an overhead projector or document camera, CAFE Menu board, and other teaching materials. We have a gathering place in every classroom we teach, regardless of our students' age level.
Behavior management through proximity and an elimination of the convenient distractions that desks hold are two of the biggest payoffs of a gathering space. Sitting in a group provides students with an opportunity to turn and talk, enhancing engagement and giving each one an opportunity to express their thinking. In addition, being able to move from their independent workspace to the gathering place provides a needed brain and body break.
We know that children can build their stamina, eventually maintaining independence for 30–45 minutes, but asking students to sustain for longer than they are able results in off-task behavior and lower levels of performance. So when stamina is waning, or when students have reached the target time goal for the round, we signal them to the gathering space. This accomplishes two things at once; it provides time for a shift in their brain work and offers much-needed movement of their bodies (which is why we call it a brain and body break). As students come to join us in the gathering place, it signals the shift in activity and thinking from whatever Daily 5 choice they were just participating in and onto the focus lesson.
Students come to expect that in between each round of Daily 5, they will not only have a moment to move, but they will also receive short bursts of valuable and focused instruction. A guideline we follow for direct instruction is: the approximate number of years our children are in age is the approximate number of minutes their brains are able to attend to direct instruction. Keeping our whole-group focus lessons shorter and focused results in better retention of the concepts we are trying to teach. It is this consistent pattern that leads to the lovely ebb and flow of teaching and practicing that exemplifies Daily 5.