Consider the last time you used a recipe to bake something, for example, a chocolate cake. Maybe it was a special occasion like a birthday, and you wanted to surprise someone with a homemade chocolate cake. The recipe details the ingredients you need, the sequence you should mix them in, and the exact temperature and duration required to bake your cake to perfection! The recipe is your trusted guide in the early stages of creating this sweet masterpiece. It’s clear, easy to understand, comes with step-by-step instructions and even pictures, all designed to build your confidence as you bake.
Despite the recipe’s utility in these early stages of cake-baking, it’s unlikely you’d want to rely on a recipe for every cake you bake in the future. At a certain point, the recipe can start to feel restrictive, dampening your creative flair as a baker. Over time, you might wish to experiment, perhaps replacing the white sugar with brown for a deeper flavor, substituting almond flour for a friend who cannot eat gluten, or opting for a cream cheese frosting instead of the traditional buttercream for a friend who prefers it. This flexibility and freedom to tweak the recipe keep? baking enjoyable.
A similar truth applies to the adopted curriculum many teachers use. While initially, it’s beneficial to have a clear roadmap to follow when implementing a new curriculum; as teachers gain confidence using it, they will desire to exercise their creativity to tailor the learning experience to the unique needs of their students.
From Teacher-led to Student-centered with Blended Learning
As a blended learning coach and professional learning facilitator, I assist teachers in transitioning from traditional, teacher-led instruction to more student-centric approaches using blended learning models. Blended learning merges active, engaged learning online with active, engaged learning offline, giving students more control over the when, where, and how of their learning journey. There are various models within blended learning, including station rotation, whole group rotation, flipped classroom, and playlist models, each providing varying levels of autonomy for students.
The goal of blended learning is to place students at the core of the learning experience. Yet, an adopted curriculum can often be a major obstacle to achieving this goal. It’s often structured for teacher-led, whole-group instruction but not restricted to this application. Teachers, as the architects of learning experiences, should have the liberty and autonomy to mold the curriculum to fit their students’ needs through various technology-enhanced instructional models.
From Linear to Circular Lessons with the Station Rotation Model
In training or coaching sessions, I work with teachers to reimagine their curriculum using a specific blended learning model to ensure they meet all learners’ needs. Teachers are often intrigued by the station rotation model specifically.
The station rotation model comprises a series of stations or learning experiences students rotate through, including a teacher-led, online, and offline station. The teacher-led station frees the teacher to work with small groups differentiating instruction, modeling strategies and skills, guiding discussion, and providing feedback on work in progress. Those benefits are attractive, but teachers often struggle to conceptualize the linear lesson plan in a more circular rotation where groups of students start in each station. I encourage teachers to reflect on specific questions when reviewing a lesson plan.
- Which portion of the lesson is most difficult for students and requires substantial teacher support?
- Which learning activities would benefit from variable time on task?
- Which learning activities can be enhanced through peer interaction and support?
The response to the first question will help determine which activity requires the teacher’s guidance and should be pulled into the teacher-led station. The second response will indicate which learning activities can be assigned as individual, self-paced tasks. The third will highlight the learning activities that benefit from collaborative small group or partner tasks.
Let’s explore two secondary examples–ELA and Math–and see how a linear whole-group lesson can be reimagined as a station rotation or a modified rotation to provide a more equitable experience and better meet the diverse needs of students.
StudySync: ELA Curriculum
StudySync is an English language arts curriculum encompassing a broad library of digital texts coupled with audio tracks for improved accessibility, video models of various skills, a peer feedback tool, and automated scaffolds for students at different language proficiency levels.
Let’s take a linear, whole-group First Read lesson from StudySync and design a station rotation. For this example, we’ll use the First Read lesson for “A Celebration of Grandfathers,” by Rudolfo Anaya in Grade 8, from the StudySync program.
The StudySync lesson includes the following elements:
- Watch and discuss the video preview
- Build background activity
- Make vocabulary predictions
- Model reading comprehension strategy
- Read and annotate the text
- Discuss the text
- Grammar practice
- Answer Think Questions
If we reimagine this as a station rotation, it might look like the rotation pictured below in Figure 1.
Transforming a StudySync lesson into a station rotation model frees the teacher from standing at the front of the room, allowing them to customize instructions and scaffolds for small groups while modeling the reading comprehension strategy. Students gain more control over their pace at the online and offline stations as they work through the learning tasks.
The station rotation model also enhances accessibility, inclusivity, and equity within the lesson. Students can read and annotate online with an audio track or offline independently or with a partner. They can choose whether to practice grammar alone or with a peer. These meaningful choices become feasible when teachers transition from a rigid whole-group learning experience, breaking down barriers to ensure all students advance toward solid, standards-aligned goals.
Math tends to be more complex to organize through a traditional rotation model due to its linear nature, as concepts and processes are built sequentially. However, the wide range of math skills and capabilities within a class can render whole-group instruction frustratingly ineffective. Some students quickly grasp the content, while others require more elaboration, models, and guided practice. If we aim for equity in learning, ensuring all students receive the necessary input to achieve a specific output, we must infuse creativity into our lesson plans.
During a recent blended learning training, a teacher was overwhelmed. She was aware that the lesson described in the curriculum wasn’t benefiting most students but was at a loss about how to implement blended learning with the Swun Math curriculum. Challenge accepted!
We brainstormed a method that respected the fundamental approach of Swun Math but incorporated stations to afford her more flexibility. The goal was to assist those students who needed it while encouraging advanced students to work at a pace that kept them interested and engaged. Too often, students ready for more rigor are limited by whole-group, teacher-led, teacher-paced lessons.
Like most adopted curricula, there is more in a Swun math lesson than a teacher could cover in a class period. A lesson includes the following elements:
- The Problem of the Day
- Input Model
- Structured Guided Practice
- Final Check for Understanding
- Student Practice
- Challenge Problems
- Extension Activity
Figure 2 below illustrates how a teacher could creatively adapt the curriculum to allow for differentiation and a higher degree of student control over the pace and, for more advanced students, their learning path.
In this revamped lesson, the teacher starts with the whole group, using the Problem of the Day and Vocabulary Building as warm-up activities. Then, using the Swun curriculum’s Input Model, the teacher introduces the day’s topic. Rather than progressing through the rest of the lesson elements in lockstep—which doesn’t work well since students need variable time on each task—the teacher transitions students into skill-level groups. This allows the teacher to offer more time and support to the students in the lower-level group as they work on the Final Check and move on to Practice Problems.
The graphic above represents the sequence and quantity of work each group completes, akin to a mini-playlist of learning activities for each skill level. The students in the mid-level group can watch the video of the input model available online for additional instruction. At the same time, the teacher works with the lower-level group, then they move on to the final check and practice problems. The teacher transitions from the lower- to mid-level group to review their work and provide support.
The high-level group will need substantially less teacher time and support and will complete more lesson elements. Once they finish the Challenge Problems, they can decide how to use their remaining time. They can opt to a) move on to the next video lesson to preview the content for the next class, b) complete the extension activity, or c) take a “student tutor” lanyard and help students in the lower-level and mid-level groups who need peer support. Not only do the students in the high-level group get to move at a pace that suits them, but they can choose to serve as valuable resources in the classroom, assisting their peers.
The goal of an adopted curriculum is to provide a high-quality, standards-aligned learning experience for all students, but a one-size-fits-all approach seldom meets everyone’s needs. Just as a traditional chocolate cake won’t work for every birthday party, a teacher-led whole-group lesson won’t meet the wide spectrum of needs, learning preferences, skills and abilities, language proficiencies, and interests in a classroom. Teachers must leverage their creativity and understanding of their specific student population to design and facilitate equitable learning experiences. Blended learning offers various instructional models that teachers can use to adjust their curriculum to ensure learning is tailored to meet the needs of all students.