Here’s how it always goes: You hear about a new movie that everyone says is intense, innovative, so fantastic! You head to the theater and drop your nine bucks, only to emerge two hours later thinking, Well, that was alright, I guess.

Truth? You probably would’ve liked the movie better if you hadn’t heard anything about it. All that buzz raised your expectations, dooming you to “meh” feelings about what was actually a pretty good film.

Hype. It’ll bum you out every time.

Teaching techniques aren’t exactly Hollywood blockbusters, but the hype machine had the same effect on me this week. Recent P.D. workshops heralded the glory of using learning stations in our high school classrooms. Borrow a page from our elementary friends, they said, and get your kids up and out of their seats! Increase engagement and let teens lead their own learning! Heck yeah, this sounds AWESOME, I thought and set about finding a place to fold the technique into my curriculum.

This was the week. I broke my lit. analysis questions for one of our poetry lessons into six stations and made two sets of each station to help with crowd control/traffic flow. After breaking students into groups of three (we just used their Quarter Trio teams), I explained the procedure:
1. Have a rich discussion of all elements of the posted question with your group.
2. Wait to reveal the answer inside the folder until I announce the 3-minute discussion time is up.

StationFolder

Then, I set them loose, using the timer on my phone to mark the start/stop of each round. Students dutifully moved around the room in clockwise rotation, making sure each team hit each question.

StationsInAction

The end result? It was fine. Not great. Just sort of meh.

The stations approach took a little bit longer than our usual treatment of those six questions (not to mention the extra half-hour over the weekend to build the folders and the extra 15 minutes before school to get everything set up) and I’m not confident my students gained as much from their discussions as I wanted. Some teams were focused and on point. Others, though, were content with superficial gloss. One trio spent 22 seconds discussing the question (yes, I was covertly timing them) and 2:38 pretending to discuss the work while actually chatting about next week’s spirit day themes. I joined them for their final discussion round.

When I do this again, I’ll need to make a few changes:
1. Create a concrete task. Sadly, some of my freshies just aren’t ready for discussion without documentation.
2. Do a better job creating questions/tasks that will take the same amount of time. Some of my questions were more meaty than others, meaning some teams were scrambling to finish in three minutes while others had been staring slack-jawed at each other for at least a minute waiting for the timer to ding.
3. Use better tape or post the answers in a separate space. A few teams couldn’t resist temptation and peeked at the answer sheet well-before they’d given themselves enough time to kick around a good answer. By the end of third period, my new moniker could’ve been The Folder Scolder. Sigh.
4. Remember that this will probably work better as part of a review game or as a logic puzzle/mystery solving lesson. I can see how math or science classes could get good use out of CSI-type learning stations.

The Takeaway: For the time investment, I just didn’t get the increased yield of learning I wanted. Still, it was fun to mix things up. I’m going to try a modified version for students’ poetry writing next week because I’ve seen these poetry stations work like a charm. I’m not done yet playing with this technique.

What do you think about learning stations? Love ‘em? Hate ‘em? Did I do something wrong? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Teach on, everyone!

Join the conversation! 6 Comments

  1. Love them for test review! It’s the ONLY way I do test review now. Lots of front-loading on your end, but engagement is much higher, and I have seen improved scores.

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  2. Thanks, Carrie. Oh yeah, I can see how engagement would be even better with review (almost like a game), and they’ll definitely be invested and focused with a test on the horizon. You’re helping to confirm my gut feeling.

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  3. Love ’em, mostly! I like using ‘learning stations’ for days I want students to complete several different practice tasks (like grammar or vocab or specific problems/questions about a passage). And yes!! concrete activities work best, with maybe one more abstract/critical thinking activity for good measure and to mix things up 🙂 Sometimes I make it into a competition, Amazing Race style! (Havent tried timers). Because I travel to different classrooms, I have all activities in colored folders, and place them around the room as I come in. I have found small groups are best, 3-4, with multiple versions of tasks that students answer/complete on their own paper. I create answer keys as well, so that part of the activity is checking the work. My students either love it or hate it! Some just want to ‘sit and get.’ Generally they’ve liked these more active days, the freedom of working on their own and immediate feedback. Thanks, Laura, for the honest assessment of this very hot topic!

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  4. I love using stations for 9th graders, but you’re totally right about them needing concrete tasks. Last year, my 9th graders read a poem (I wish I could remember which one-maybe a sonnet?), and I had posters all around the room with different literary terms on them. They had to rotate and write observations about rhyme, metaphor, simile, imagery, etc. on the poster and on a note sheet. The trick is to find a poem rich enough to give multiple groups something new to write. They loved it! I had students who were normally unengaged really excited to dig into the poem, asking if every class could be like this. I also love gallery walks or discovery stations for the freshies. Having them make observations works really well, and then it can lead to a structured discussion later.

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  5. This makes sense, Stacey, and I think I have a fair share of those “sit and getters.” But I am feelin’ that Amazing Race theme idea. I might even make the Race around different spots on our open-air Quad, a big swath of campus filled with picnic tables and green space. Maybe this spring… Oh! Maybe with The Odyssey and their own mini-journey/Race to Ithaka? See, now you got my wheels turnin’. Thanks! 🙂

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  6. Okay, so I’m seeing now that a concrete task is the special sauce to make this work. Thanks, Chelsey. Seems I made a bit of a rookie mistake, thinking my freshmen would stay focused when I wasn’t monitoring. Silly teacher! I really like your pick-apart-this-poem idea. I also saw somewhere (someone’s blog? Pinterest? Ack!) where the teacher gave different colored sticky notes to each team of three students so that she could track which team made which comment. No repeated comments were allowed. At the end of the session, the whole class discussed each station, determining the richest level of commentary from the sticky notes. I think that would make sense for our poetry unit, too. Good stuff. Thanks for commenting!

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high school English, middle school, Uncategorized

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