Station Rotation Model: Alternative Group Formations

When I lead blended learning workshops or work as a 1:1 blended learning coach, I field a lot of questions about the design of station rotation lessons. Teachers see my examples which show four separate groups and assume that all station rotations must have four groups. That is not the case. The Station Rotation Model is flexible. Below are some of the most common comments I hear and my responses to teachers struggling to conceptualize how to use this model with their students.

#1 “I can’t use the Station Rotation Model because my classes are only 45 minutes long.” 

Teachers with shorter class periods mistakenly think they cannot make a station rotation work. However, there are several strategies they can use to create an effective rotation in a traditional school schedule. First, teachers can design a station rotation lesson that extends over multiple days. For example, I worked with a school in Southern California that dedicated Mondays to whole group instruction then Tuesday through Friday were rotations. It was a four day four station rotation, so students hit one station on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

For teachers who do not want to have a station rotation extend over multiple days, I encourage them to try the “flip-flop.” The “flip-flop” is essentially two stations, so the class is divided in half. The teacher works with one side of the room, and the other side of the room is engaged in a collaborative small group activity or individual practice online. Then the groups switch half way through the period.

Flip-Flop

 #2 “My classes are too large to use the Station Rotation Model. I would have to design at least six stations to make it work.”

I encourage teachers with large class sizes to consider a formation with “mirror stations.” Instead of designing six different stations, they can design three stations, divide the room in half, and have each side of the room rotate through mirror stations. This design decreases the front-loading required to plan the lesson, and reduces the number of students at each station. If the teacher wants to lead a station, then that station will be larger because two groups of students will converge on that station for each rotation. However, teachers who want to provide some direct instruction or model a process can do so in this formation.

Mirror Stations

Note: In the image above, I have purposefully laid out the stations so the teacher is facing the back of the independent practice stations. This way the screens are visible to the teacher, which makes it easier to monitor online work.

#3 “If I’m leading a station, I cannot conference with individual students.” 

The teacher-led station provides valuable opportunities for small group instruction and coaching, but there are days when I want to do side-by-side assessments or work with individual students who are struggling. In those cases, I design a station rotation lesson where I do not lead a station. Often, I will ask students who are particularly strong in a specific area or who are ahead of the group in terms of skill level to design and lead stations. (Check out my blog on student-designed stations.) Then I sit at a small two person table and pull individual students for one-on-one work.

One-on-one Conferencing

These are just a few of the concerns I hear when I work with secondary teachers on the Station Rotation Model. I hope these suggestions will help coaches and teachers get creative with group formations. There is no one correct method for planning and executing a station rotation lesson. It’s important for teachers to make this blended learning model work for them and their students!

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9 Responses to Station Rotation Model: Alternative Group Formations

  1. Thank you for this post! I took a break from stations because I was overwhelmed, but I dipped my toes back in the “station” water earlier this year. I like how you break down the various ways to group the students AND suggest having screens facing you while students are utilizing on-line components. With stations, do you have any suggestions for students who ask questions of you while you are leading a station?

    • Hi Jill,
      Students know they are not allowed to interrupt my work at the teacher-led station. My mantra when dealing with questions, in general, is “figure it out.” More often than not they can answer their own questions or receive guidance from a peer to work through any hiccups or challenges they face. I encourage them to use tech to solve problems –> 21st Century Version of Ask 3 Before Me.

      I also have students post questions to a TodaysMeet during a rotation so I can quickly check that during breaks at my teacher-led station or during transitions to catch any real questions that surface as I do small group instruction. Sometimes students will send me a text using Remind if they have a question and I’ll respond during a transition.

      Catlin

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  3. Tracy C says:

    Catlin,

    Thanks for sharing your creative ideas. You’ve got me thinking a lot about how to improve my teaching. Do you ever have teachers tell you the classroom itself is too small to do station rotations? I have 36 students, 48 minute classes, and barely enough room to fit all the desks in the room. Do you address class layout in any of your books?

    • Hi Tracy,

      No, I don’t cover layouts in any of my books, but maybe I’ll tackle that in a blog post. Every room (layout, number of students, and furniture) is so different, it’s hard to generalize an ideal set up. That said, I think there are some layouts that work well and can be adjusted to fit different spaces. I’ll try to work on that in the next few weeks!

      Catlin

  4. Stephen Burrows says:

    I’ve already considered doing the station rotation model. The format would be one “overarching” idea for a 3 day period, with a tech based, project based, and “other” (still working on that). My concern would be to get in the information required to meet the curriculum? Not sure if this is going to work or not.
    Ideas? Suggestions? Have others done this?

  5. Marcela says:

    Thanks a lot for the excellent strategies about how to rotate with short period of class.

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