One of the first questions I get from teachers when they first start with station rotation is
“How do I know my kids are doing what I’m asking them to do?”
I love that this is one of the first things teachers want to know, because it shows me that they’re thinking ahead to the practical logistics of how stations might work in a classroom…in the real world. This is especially important in a rotation when the teacher is a station, or in other words when there is an in-person, teacher-led learning station. When you decide to make yourself a station to give targeted instruction to groups of your students, it means you give up a level of control over what your other groups of students are doing, which can be very intimidating, especially at first.
I want to share three strategies that can help get your station rotation off the ground and help alleviate some of the real anxiety around experimenting with Blended Learning:
Accountable Work & Acting On The Data
Engagement (both kinds)
Let’s start with one of the things I always remind teachers to include in their stations: some kind of accountability component. I was a high school teacher, and I always envision my former students at a station, while I’m across the room instructing a small group. If I haven’t built in some sort of ‘check’ on them, guess what? They’re going to sit there for the 15 minute rotation just hanging out and talking about their weekend plans, which is definitely not what I want happening. To alleviate that, I want to build something into each station that makes them show me what they learned, or reflect on the experience of doing the work I’ve designed for them. These are often called exit tickets, but it doesn’t only have to be that. Some of my favorites are:
A google form (exit ticket)
Doing a collaborative sort, taking a photo, and turning it in on Classroom
Sharing on a shared Google Slide Deck, and commenting on someone else’s
Answering a question on Classroom
Reflecting on their experience on a doc, post-it, journal, or in an online portfolio
‘Tweeting’ what they learned (don’t use Twitter? Use Paper Tweeting).
Use a post-it that they put in a number in a grid (idea here)
There are so many options, just make sure you use something at EACH station you design. The next step is doing something with that data that your kids make for you. I’m not talking about grading all of it- that’s unnecessary and it perpetuates the idea that kids should only learn for a grade (something I categorically disagree with). However, this data is very valuable, because it helps you as the teacher to be able to mindfully and strategically group your students into groups that will benefit their learning which makes it easier to target instruction for specific needs. So, if you find that you have a group of four kids that just don’t get concluding sentences, group them together, and another group can’t get the pythagorean theorem, they go in a group. You have 5 that don’t know the impact of the French Revolution, they go together, and there’s a group that can’t identify the correct parts of the water cycle, they become a group. So, the next day (or the next set of rotations) includes a teacher-led learning station. You can then target learning that those specific kids need, rather than trying to teach everyone everything. You know what they need and you can make it happen. Also, those kids that are ‘beyond’ in your class? This means you can target them…help them go further (the often-elusive enrichment!).
Next up, is engagement. I divided it into two bits: all stations & teacher-led. So, if we’re talking about all stations, that means you want to make sure your stations are engaging to your students. Don’t make all of the stations read a long article and then answer questions. That’s not engaging for most kids, and it definitely defeats the purpose if they do it all of the stations. Differentiate what you’re asking kids to do, and how you’re asking them to do it. If all else fails, ask students what they like to do…really, though, ask your kids.
Second is engagement at the teacher-led station, and I’m not implying that you aren’t interesting to kids. I’m talking about the critical 2-3 minutes when you FIRST start your rotations. Why? You want to be able to get your other groups working, and answer questions. So that teacher-led group needs something to do before you get back. They might:
Read a short article
Watch a quick video
Do visual discovery on a cartoon or artwork
Proofread a postcard
Do a review problem that they’ve already mastered
Finally, you’ll want to think about having procedures down in your classroom. Guide your students through the process of learning in this way. It will likely be new for your students, so don’t assume they know how to do it. Show them what it looks like to learn at a collaborative learning station, explain how to rotate, stress the importance of completing the accountability piece before they leave each station. What voice levels? Do they need earbuds? What should their devices be doing? Think about what might be stumbling blocks for your students and address them. One of my favorite teachers to work with last year designed an amazing station rotation, but it didn’t go well. When we reflected on the process, she pointed out that she should have guided her students through how to do a station rotation. The following day, she did just that, and the lesson went really well. If kids need refreshing, have the procedures available for them to see at each station, and make reviewing them part of their workflow.
As you can see, there is a lot that goes into making sure your kids are doing what you want them to do at different stations, but by thinking ahead, you can definitely do it. Remember that this is a process and you’ll develop your skill as you experiment with Blended Learning in your classroom.
What is your number one advice to another teacher who is just starting with stations in their classroom?