Station Rotation in an Era of Social Distancing

Teachers are preparing for an uncertain future. Many are unsure if they will be returning to school on a traditional schedule, a blended learning schedule, or completely online. Teachers are questioning how the instructional strategies they have used in the past will work if students are coming to school on a modified schedule or if they are learning online.

I’ve written extensively about the station rotation model, which many teachers enjoy using but are unsure how to modify in this era of social distancing. This post is designed to create clarity about how to take this blended learning model and adapt it to meet the needs of a socially distant classroom or to create an online lesson.

First, I want to review the benefits of the station rotation model:

  • It frees the teacher to work with small groups of students.
  • It makes differentiating instruction more manageable.
  • It creates smaller learning communities within the larger class.
  • It encourages communication and collaboration among students.
  • It shifts the focus from the teacher to the learners.

I realize there is a lot we do not know about the next school year, but here is what I do know.

  • Teachers can expect to have students in need of remediation or reteaching. The transition to online learning in spring happened suddenly and without sufficient preparation. As a result, many students disengaged and missed out on the learning they would have experienced in a physical classroom.
  • Students may be struggling with fear, anxiety, and depression as a result of the events that have taken place in the last few months. Students may have lost loved ones to COVID19 and families may be struggling with economic insecurity because of the pandemic. In addition, the protests and growing awareness about racial injustice in this country are likely impacting our students’ lives.
  • Students have spent months socially distancing and feeling disconnected from their friends and their school community. Many may be missing the routines and interactions associated with their school days.

Given these realities, teachers will want to think about how to design their lessons to ensure they are able to remediate and differentiate, create time to connect with individual students, and foster communication and collaboration among students. The station rotation model offers an avenue to accomplish all of these goals.

Eliminating Movement Between Stations

In a traditional station rotation lesson, students physically move from one station to the next. However, this fall there will likely be new limitations on student movement in classrooms. Instead of designing a lesson where students move, they will remain in the same location throughout the class and work through a series of learning activities. The teacher, by contrast, will move to each group to facilitate the “teacher-led” station.

Setting Up Your Classroom for a Station Rotation in the Era of Social Distancing

Students may be asked to wear masks to school and remain six feet apart in classrooms. Although the recommendations have been to limit the number of students in a classroom at one time and place desks in rows, I worry that reverting back to rows may limit student interactions at a time when they are likely craving connection with peers. Students do not need to be physically close to engage in small group discussions or talk while completing collaborative tasks online. If we are limiting the number of students in a classroom, I would love to see teachers think about desk formations that would allow for social distancing without relegating students to rows.

Taking the Station Rotation Online

Teachers who enjoy planning station rotation lessons can use that same design to plan their online learning experiences for students. Teachers can combine online and offline learning activities in a virtual station rotation lesson and assign each group a virtual conferencing time to meet with you online for their “teacher-led station.” Below is a lesson template teachers are welcome to copy and use to create their virtual station rotation lessons.

As teachers think about and plan for the next school year, I encourage them to identify the strategies that worked well pre-COVID19. Then think about how they might modify those strategies to work in a socially distant classroom or online. With some modifications, many of the instructional models and learning activities that have become staples in our physical classrooms may be adapted for a socially distant classroom or an online course.

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13 Responses to Station Rotation in an Era of Social Distancing

  1. Rachel S Holderbach says:

    So kinders would get online to meet with you on webex for a small group while in the classroom?

    • Hi Rachel,

      The online webex option is for the virtual lesson not the face to face. In a socially distant classroom where student movement needs to be limited only the teacher moves between groups for the teacher-led station. If you want to use the station rotation format to plan your virtual lessons if you are online with students, then the teacher-led station would be those online sessions.

      Let me know if that makes sense.

      Take care.

      • Cherith Pierson says:

        What book might be the best to read based on a very tech savvy set of teachers, but who just might need more structured ideas as we move into this new phase?

        • Hi Cherith,

          If they are new to blended learning, I would encourage you to start with Blended Learning in Action. If they have already done some work with blended learning, I would suggest Balance with Blended Learning.

          Take care.

  2. Godson Gatsha says:

    great work..I wish to learn more. I am in Botswana.

  3. Meg Dana says:

    Hi Catlin,
    I found you through EdTechTeacher and am so glad I did! I teach 5th grade at a small independent school in CA. I would like to purchase one of your books to learn more about implementing blended learning. Can you recommend the best book for my grade level?
    Thanks for all your great work.

    • Hi Meg,

      If you are just getting started with blended learning, I would suggest Blended Learning in Action. It is not grade specific but will provide a nice introduction to blended learning and the various models.

      Let me know if you need anything else.

      Take care.

  4. Jeanette Amador says:

    First, thank you for all you do. I value your input greatly. Currently the district in which I teach is stating that students can not face each other, thus rows are a must. It is so sad. I am currently in actual mourning for the loss of students interaction. If you have any ideas, please let me know. Pre-Covid, my class was very active and we did use station rotation model for Study Sync.
    Thank you.

    • Hi Jeanette,

      That is disappointing. I hate the idea of putting kids back into rows. I think you can retain a “feeling” of connection and collaboration if you can bring students together virtually to collaborate in classrooms. You may want to focus on integrating online discussions and collaborative work using the Google or Microsoft suite to get kids working on shared tasks. It’s not the same as working directly with a group, but at least it allows them to interact and learn from one another.


  5. Hope Miller says:

    Blended learning is a key part of differentiation in the classroom. Your ideas are great…I am very interested in reading one of your books. I saw that you recommended Blended Learning in Action. I will be sure to add that to my reading list this summer. This year is going to look very different for all of us and the more ideas we go into the classroom with the more successful our students will be.
    Thank you for your great ideas.
    Hope Miller

    • Agreed, Hope! This new year will be unlike anything we have ever experienced before.

      I think the hardest part for teachers is not knowing what to expect. I’m thrilled you have found my resources useful in thinking about next year. 😊

      Take care!

  6. Michael Eme Moran says:

    Hi Caitlin,
    “ …to remediate and differentiate…”, as well as individuate right? This model feels familiar, it reminds me of my program to support students with individual education plans (IEP) plus an online group. Many of our fourteen students require small group, very directed learning opportunities, it may be tough (to say the least) but I just took a step closer to grasping the evolution.
    Kindest Regards,

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