Inspiration Stations: A Creative Spin on the Station Rotation

This year, I’ve focused on using the Station Rotation Model to:

  • create smaller learning communities within our larger class
  • spend more time working in small groups with students
  • more effectively differentiate instruction
  • make the most of our limited technology

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Most of the time our Station Rotation lessons are focused on academic topics, but last month I experimented with a new spin on the Station Rotation Model that I called Inspiration Stations. I explained to my students that the goal of these stations was to have fun and stretch our minds creatively. I’m a big believer in the power of play to inspire, recharge and ignite both curiosity and creativity. Unfortunately, it’s rare to see students engage in play at school after they’ve left elementary school, but secondary students need this time too.

Instead of designing academic tasks to be completed in each station, I designed creative tasks with very loose guidelines. One group composed and recorded a song while another station was focused on building a 3D art project. One group decided to write a proposal for a student designed Donors Choose project. The fourth station was a “you choose” station. Students were able to select the station or stations they wanted to visit. Some students stayed in a single station while others hit two stations. In that way, it had elements of the Free Form Station Rotation.

The beauty of Inspiration Stations is that it gives students choice. Not every child enjoys the same type of creative activity, so the various stations allow them to select a creative task that appeals to his/her interests.

For teachers who wonder…”What is the value of this lesson?” I’d encourage you to spend some time investigating the value of creative play. I love how the Inspiration Foundation puts it. They say, “Creative Play begins with inspiration and culminates in the sharing of an original artifact made by the child using whatever tools and materials are available. In this process, kids open up their minds to what’s possible, take chances, solve problems, collaborate and become better creative thinkers and doers. These are the critical ’21st century skills’ the whole world is talking about.”

The more I use the Station Rotation Model, the more I find I am drawn to variations on it. I believe those variations keep it interesting for my students!

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Differentiate Reading with Rewordify

In an earlier post titled How Challenging Is that Online Text?, I shared the Readability tool that can help educators determine how hard an online text is to see if it is a good match for their students. Then in a training last week, someone asked me if there was a tool that could make a challenging text simpler. Yes, there is!

Rewordify allows the user to:

  • Simplify the wording of a text for improved comprehension
  • Learn new vocabulary
  • Design engaging lessons
  • Track his/her reading statistics and progress

Simplify Website Text

Teachers can copy and paste text into the yellow box on the Rewordify homepage or enter the URL for the web page they want to simplify.

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When teachers copy and paste a URL into the box, they have two options: 1) Rewordify the web page and display it (retaining all photographs) or 2) Rewordify the web page text only.

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If teachers click “Rewordify web page & display it,” the web page will appear with yellow wording adjustments in yellow throughout.

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If the user hovers over any of the yellow words or phrases, the original text will appear. For example, the word “propaganda” in the title is translated into “talk or information that tries to change people’s minds.”

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Develop Vocabulary with Learning Sessions

If users copy and paste a chunk of text into the yellow window, the software identifies the challenging words and the user can decide which words they want to learn. The user can also hand pick words they want to learn that may not have been identified by Rewordify. This gives the user some control over vocabulary development.

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For each word in a Learning Session, the user:

  • listens to an audio file pronouncing the word
  • sees the word used in context
  • types the word
  • selects a synonym for the word

In addition to simplifying online texts, Rewordify has a large collection of classic literature and public documents that have been reworded to be more simple. These offer teachers looking to differentiate reading instruction another option to use when designing lessons.

For more websites where teachers can find texts that are written at different Lexile levels, check out my post “3 Websites Where You Can Find Complex Texts.”

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Combatting a Culture of Learned Helplessness

I led a training last week on blended learning and asked teachers to brainstorm the biggest challenges they face in the classroom. One answer resonated with me. “Learned helplessness.” On my drive home, I kept mentally returning to this phrase.

Then in my own classroom last week, my students were beginning a research project that would culminate in student presentations. We’ve done this type of task before, yet I was bombarded with questions: “Tucker, what should we title this?” “Tucker, how big should the font be?” “Tucker, how do we add an image to the background of our slide?”

I have a stock response I use in this situation, “Figure it out.” That may strike some teacher as harsh, but I disagree. Our students are conditioned from a young age to ask a teacher for help the minute something doesn’t go right or the moment they have a question. Where is the curiosity? Why don’t they want to figure it out themselves?

I cannot climb into my students backpacks and go home with them to field every inquiry they have, so why would I do it in the classroom? Students have to learn how to answer their own questions. More and more, I have come to feel that my main responsibility as an educator is not to teach students about literature, writing, vocabulary or grammar. My job is to teach them how to learn. If they know how to continue learning long after they leave my class, I have given them a gift that will make college, career paths, and life easier.

When students have questions, I ask them:

  1. Did you ask anyone else?
  2. Did you Google it?
  3. Have you searched YouTube for a tutorial?

Most students haven’t even bothered to Google a question before they ask me. This is shocking. Google is where I would go first if I had a question I could not answer. If my search results didn’t shed light on my question or problem, I’d turn to YouTube and watch video explanations or tutorials.

Teachers who want to cultivate curious life-long learners should stop and think before they answer student questions. Ask yourself, “Is this a question they could figure out for themselves?” If the answer is “Yes,” then let them struggle a little. The reward of answering their own questions is much more gratifying and help us to combat this culture of learned helplessness.

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