May 10, 2018

One of the questions I get asked most often is,

How does an eLearning lesson really looks?

The difficulty is that eLearning encompass a wide variety of lessons, activities and teaching styles. There is not a single right or wrong way to integrate technology into your teaching. However, there are some models that teachers have developed and proved to be effective. One of them is the Station Rotation model. You cannot talk about Station Rotation without mentioning Catlin Tucker, who has used it and written on it extensively.

The following two video clips are part of a series on Blended Learning done by McGraw-Hill Education and Catlin. I can’t explain it any better than Catlin does.

What is the Station Rotation model?

Stations are nothing new; teachers have been using them for years. Technology just adds a new edge to station rotation. The station rotation model is also an ideal solution for classes where you have limited technology. If you only have access to a few tablets or computers one station can use them while the other stations complete offline tasks.

The basic idea behind the station rotation model is that you create 4 – 5 different tasks or stations. You divide the class into groups, and the groups rotate between the stations at a given time interval. Doing five stations in a 45-minute lesson is not feasible, so this model works best to cover a section of work. I prefer to let each group spend a lesson at a station or maximum two stations per lesson. So 4 – 5 stations cover about a week’s worth of work. It is crucial that the stations you have created do not build on each other since each group will start at a different point.

Create small learning communities with station rotation model – Catlin Tucker

Advantages of the Station Rotation model

The most significant advantage of the station rotation model is that it enables you, as the teacher, to take one of the stations and have an intense discussion with a small group of learners. In a small group, it is easier to hear from every learner, give useful feedback and engage with the learners.

Another advantage is that the structure force you to consider different types of activities, technically you can have five research stations or 5 stations making summaries but what would be the point? And you will have bored and misbehaving learners after the section rotation. I try never to have two stations do the same type of activity.

But the biggest advantage is that station rotation cannot be teacher lead. After all, you cannot divide yourself between four or five stations, so learners get the change to take responsibility for their own learning and the stations automatically promote active learning.

Things to keep in mind

The station rotation model does not work with for all subject or all topics. I have found it very difficult to use station rotation in mathematics since most lessons build on what we did in the previous lesson. I would suggest you sit down at the start of the year and look at the curriculum, identifying topics that will lend themselves to station rotation.

Each station should take approximately the same time to complete. You should also always include some instructions as to what learners should do if they complete their station early. And have a backup plan for groups that do not complete their station in the allocated time. For example, can they complete it at home? Or have an overflow section at the end of the module where they can finish any part they did not complete.

Groups should be neither too big or too small, between 6 and 10 learners per group normally work well. To work out your group sizes, divide the number of learners in the class by the number of station. You should also consider how you are going to group the learners. Will they be able to choose their own groups? Do you allocate groups? Are you planning for mixed ability groups or do you want to use this opportunity to diversify by having different ability groups?

Station Rotation model

To help you create different types of activities try to have one station:

  • work by themselves
  • have a discussion with the teacher.
  • do a collaborative activity
  • Online – quiz/research/flipped
  • create something

Another way to look at it is to plan your stations around the areas of your class, by having one station:

  • work at their desks
  • at the teacher’s desks
  • use the whiteboard
  • use tablets/computers
  • create something outside

Planning a station rotation module

The station rotation model normally covers a chunk of work, it also takes a chunk of planning. It is definitely not something you decide on 10 minutes before the lesson. The best way to start is to create a diagram of the stations you are planning. You can scribble your planning on paper, the disadvantage is that it is difficult to keep it for next year. Lots of teachers prefer to do their planning as a mindmap, I use to create mind maps quickly and for free. But my favourite way is to do my planning in Google Slides. It allows me to add more detail and make notes for next year. I have recently started to colour code my stations instead of numbering them as well. This reinforced the idea that the stations are not following on each other. Here are two examples of planning station rotation.

Get the Station Rotation Planning Template for free.

While having a teacher lead station is one of the most significant advantages of the station rotation model, I always suggest that teachers do not include a teacher station the first few times that they do station rotation. Like all things, learners will need more guidance the first time they do something new. Being able to roam between the stations allow you to guide them and keep them on task. It will also allow you to see where your instructions were not clear enough.

A few other questions you should ask yourself while planning:

  • How long will each station take?
  • Will learners have to move between stations physically, or will a new station just mean a new set of instructions?
  • What will be the most effective way to give instructions for each station?
  • Will you assess any of the tasks? Can you work in peer assessment as part of the station?

I found station rotation to be very intimidating when I first looked at it. Especially since it meant I had to let go of control and allow learners to work on their own and invite chaos into my class. But by starting small, with only three stations in a double period, I got the hang of it. And realised how powerful this model is and how many variations on the theme is possible.

You will never know if it is going to work until you try it.


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