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Learning Stations

In the past two days, I have conferenced with 89 different student writers, giving feedback on 89 very different narratives. Like all English teachers, I have very limited time with my writers. My classes are only 40 minutes long. My students' narratives, on the other hand, are often very long.

How did I pull off conferencing with every single student over the course of two days? Learning stations. 

Learning stations are typically thought of as an elementary classroom tool; however, in the secondary ELA classroom, learning stations give students and teachers the opportunity to maximize time.

Setting up learning stations in your classroom is simple:

1. Align stations to specific standards.

The most meaningful way to determine station activities is to look at the standards and determine what learning your students need to accomplish. 

My most recent learning stations were directly aligned to the narrative writing standards. Our stations were being used for revising narrative drafts, so I focused the stations on dialogue, structure, sensory language, character and point of view, peer conferencing, and teacher conferencing. Looking at the common core standards for narrative writing, the major elements of narrative writing were covered using the stations I designed. 

Here are a few other ideas for station design:

One station for each rubric category: students could focus on revising their writing according to one line of a rubric per station. I love color coding writing according to rubric attributes, and stations would be the perfect way to provide your students with the time and structure to color code then revise.

Stations for poetry genres or traits: one of my favorite stations activities is something I designed for reading and analyzing a Shakespearean Sonnet. With stations, students analyze a specific trait of the sonnet at each location which helps them to look at the sonnet from a different lens with each activity. 

The possibilities are endless with stations! Get creative and make sure each station has meaning and will help your students grow as learners. Busy work leads to off task students, and the beauty of stations is that, when designed well, they run themselves. Meaningful activities lead to rich learning experiences and autonomy.

2. Create checklists for each station so students know exactly what to do.

Students and stations will ideally manage themselves given the right tools. When implementing stations, be sure to set clear expectations for each station.  Simple checklists at each station will do the job. I like to make a list my students can literally check off. I feel a sense of accomplishment checking off my to do list. Our students do, too. 

When designing your checklist, plan for your speedy workers. What will they do if they finish the checklist? For example, after revising dialogue and editing punctuation, I might have students read through a mentor text and take their writing to the next level. 

What about students who need more time? I make enough copies of checklists so students can take them home if they want or need to finish a task. If I have a culminating activity tied to stations, students would need to finish that, but our focus in stations is the learning, not necessarily completing every single item on the checklist.

3. Include a teacher station.

The greatest advantage of stations in the secondary classroom is that you actually get to work with every single student. Not only does this help you to work with your students and help them grow, it's also a great relationship builder. 

My quiet students who avoid participating in whole class discussions often open up with me in smaller groups. My too-cool-for-school students are focused when I can work with them directly. It's such a beautiful thing and my favorite part of stations.

A teacher station will also save you grading time. When you have the chance to skim through each student's writing in advance and give feedback, you can focus more on assessing specific traits during actual grading. I didn't feel as guilty when I wasn't commenting on heart of the story because I spent time doing that during conferences.

4. Use a visible timer.

Timers are just as much for us as they are for the students. I can easily get lost in student conferences and writing, so timers keep me moving pretty quickly. Timers also help students to stay focused on completing their checklist tasks in a timely manner. 

If you have a projector or Smartboard, simply type in 10 minute timer, for example, and there are tons of options. Make sure students can see the timer from all stations. Smart phone timers don't work well for that reason. 

I teach 40 minute class periods, so I prefer aiming for three, ten minute stations over the course of two days.

Learning Stations Optimize Learning

Seeing your students explore learning independently is the ultimate goal. As teachers we want our students to leave our classroom smarter than they were before they entered our doors. We should also work to give them the tools to continue growing without us. Learning stations give students that independence.

What questions, comments, or successes have you had with learning stations? I'd love to hear them. Share in the comments section below. 

Happy teaching!


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