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.
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.
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!