You are in the middle of a lesson and all the students are following along—except that one student who has lots of questions. The questions are good, engaging, and you can tell the student is making every effort to grasp today's concept. However, the other students are not interested in the answers. By trying to bring this one student up to speed, you've lost the engagement of the rest of the class.
It's difficult to teach to all the students' needs at the same time without losing some students' focus. It's not fair to the rest of the students to focus on this one student for the next five minutes, nor is it fair for that single student to be a casualty of not being able to keep up with the rest of the class. So I started brainstorming methods that would allow me to teach to each student's needs.
The solution? Stations! I know stations are not new and inventive; they've been used in classrooms all over the world. They'd never been used in my classes. With stations, I would be able to seemingly cut my class size in half. Stations could provide me the ability to create a smaller teacher-to-student ratio and therefore a more personal teaching experience. Stations could provide a self-paced learning environment for each student to have a more personal, organic learning experience.
I devised three methods to integrate stations into my classroom; each allowed me to meet the individual needs of each student without losing engagement and rigor. These methods were developed for a middle school math class with a class set of iPads, but they can be used in any subject area.
Strategy 1. Self-Paced Learning
I create stations for each element covered during a unit. Each station has a folder with a QR code attached to it that the students scan. The QR code directs them to a video tutorial that walks them through the element for that particular station.
When the students complete the tutorial, they retrieve a quiz from inside the folder and complete it. The students bring me their completed quiz, and if they show mastery of the concept, they move on to the next station. If they don't show mastery, they return to the station, re-watch the tutorial, and try the quiz again. If students still struggle to gain understanding after the second attempt, I personally walk them through the process until they gain understanding.
All students begin at the same station and work at their own pace from that point on. Students who finish all the stations ahead of their classmates are assigned to help one of the struggling students. This really tests the student's understanding. If they can teach it, they know it.
A benefit of stations is that students are able to learn at their own pace. Students who "get it" right away are not punished by having to wait for those students who don't. And no one is getting left behind because they can't keep up. It also allows me to see which students need extra help and provide that help myself or ask one of the accelerated students to help a struggling classmate.
Strategy 2: Half-and-Half
I situate enough tables (stations) at the back of my room to accommodate half my students. Each station has a tablet open to a specific game app that reinforces basic math skills. The devices are "locked down" so the students cannot leave the app. I set a timer and allow five to seven minutes per station. When the alarm sounds, students rotate to the next station.
Meanwhile, the rest of the students are at the front of the classroom working with me on that day's lesson. Having a smaller group to work with allows me to give more personal attention to these particular students. And, with the class size seemingly smaller, the students are more willing to participate and share their understanding of the subject matter with their fellow students.
The stations give students a chance to strengthen the important basic math skills that I don't have time to give them in class to do otherwise. All students are on task the entire time.
Strategy 3: Home Base
Strategy helps prepare students for an upcoming test. The students receive a review packet that covers each element of the unit that I want the students to go over. The guided practice for each element has a corresponding QR code directing them to a video tutorial to help them in the review processes.
While the students are engaged with the video tutorials, I call each student back to my desk for a short tutoring session. This time there is only one "station" and it's me. Again, with the rest of the class engaged in the review packet and tutorials, I'm able to spend meaningful one-on-one time with a student who may need extra help.
This strategy is great for review, and it allows me to have the personal, one-on-one time with each student. It's also a great way to find what students grasp and what they may be struggling with.
Making It Your Own
My goal was to give you ideas for implementing stations into your classroom—you most likely will not use stations the same way that I have. I would love to hear from those who have tried using stations in their classrooms. Share what changes you made and how you made it work for your class, what worked and what didn't. As class sizes are on the rise everywhere, it's up to teachers to be creative in how we can make them seem smaller.
Ryan Fuderer is a middle school math teacher at Covenant Day School in Mathews, North Carolina.
Published in AMLE Magazine
, April 2016.