A Beginner’s Guide to Station-Based Learning

Innovative classrooms are introducing station-based learning to better engage students and provide more helpful feedback for teachers.

Station-based learning is true to its name: it allows students to rotate through stations, learning in smaller groups adaptable to each student’s individual needs. Khan Academy offers a more thorough definition in a video explaining the model:

In a Station Rotation, within a given course or subject (such as math) students rotate at fixed points in time – that is, on a fixed schedule or at the teacher’s discretion – between different learning stations, at least one of which is an online learning station. Other stations might include activities such as small-group or full-class instruction, group projects, individual tutoring, and pencil-and-paper assignments. Some implementations involve the entire class alternating among activities together, whereas others divide the class into small-group rotations. In the Station Rotation model, students rotate through all of the stations.

Educators have praised station-based learning for a variety of reasons. Allowing students to rotate through learning stations offers freedom, both for you and your students. You have more freedom to design a variety of learning opportunities, rather than attempting to create a uniform lesson that addresses the learning needs of every student, and students have freedom to move at their own pace – to a degree, of course – and experiment with different learning styles. The stations can also offer immediate feedback and give you a chance to communicate with your students in smaller groups or even one-on-one.

This method might not fit all classrooms or teachers well, but it does cater to several common teaching dilemmas, including large class sizes, a mix of learning styles, and prolonged periods of inactivity for students. To successfully implement station-based learning, keep the following tips in mind:

1. Offer a variety of stations.

station-based learningIn an article on station-based learning strategies, Janelle Cox focuses on three main categories of stations: open-ended activities, tiered activities, and learning menus. Open-ended activities can be applied to any student. For a lesson on environmental science, you could ask students to brainstorm on paper or research online the biggest environmental problems we’re facing today. All students start in the same place but will end up with different answers and takeaways. A tiered activity allows you to tailor activities to different students. Again, all students will be doing the same activity, but to different levels of difficulty. In a math class, students could work on the same concept but different groups have varying problems. Finally, learning menus let the student choose the activity, allowing them the freedom to thrive in different learning styles. Offer your students options and ask them to pick several to complete. Learning menus provide boundaries while letting students explore and have a sense of ownership.

2. Hold your students accountable.

station-based learningStation-based learning might sound chaotic, and it easily could become so without rules set in place and accountability on your part. A middle school science teacher, Ted Malefyt, found station-based learning to be successful in his classes, but only when he checked on his students throughout the process. He holds his students accountable by giving them a roadmap to the activity and keeping a personal roster. In his article for Edutopia, he explains how he’ll give his students an activity sheet (their “roadmap”) which includes the station name (Igneous Rock ID Lab), the learning target (How do I use grain size using cooling rate?), the key deliverable (ID Lab Chart + Teacher Conference), and a blank space for his stamp. He says he uses an old-fashioned rubber stamp to sign off on every student to ensure they successfully completed the station. He also keeps his own roster to jot down feedback for each student on each station so he can know what to focus on in the future. While stations can be fun, the goal is the same as a traditional lesson: to help your students learn. Keeping record of how they’re doing will not only keep them on task but provide you with concrete, actionable data.

3. Communicate with your students.

station-based learningOne of the most lauded elements of station-based learning is the ability to communicate more personally with students. If you implement this method in your classroom, take advantage of the opportunity to see how students are doing and continually evolve your teaching methods to fit the needs of your students. Whether you talk to students in small groups or one-on-one, use that time to explain and expand on difficult concepts, dig deeper into their learning style, and answer any questions they have. Students want to be seen and understood – personal time with you could have a huge impact on their understanding and motivation.

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To learn about more trending topics in the academic community, check out three popular structural changes in the school day that are being made throughout the nation.

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Courtney Runn

Courtney is a senior at the University of Texas where she studies journalism and Italian. An Austin native, she loves living in the capital of Texas but also has a soft spot for Italia where she spent middle school and high school. A few of her favorite things include chai tea lattes, spending time with her golden retriever puppy, and good food shared with even better friends.
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