Recently one of the graduate students in my Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages class at Hunter College School of Education asked me, “How do I teach my 9th-grade beginner English Language Learners (ELLs), who are reading at a fourth grade level, when they are expected to keep up with peers reading Of Mice and Men? I need to have time to teach them phonics and comprehension but there aren’t any structures in my class to do that.” Despite having a co-teacher and a 90-minute English language arts block, this new teacher couldn’t think of a way to provide differentiated, personalized instruction for ELLs. I replied, “Have you tried station rotation?” I received a very perplexed look, “What is that and how would that help me teach my ELLs?” 

Station rotation is a blended learning model that is defined as “a course or subject in which students rotate on a fixed schedule or at the teacher’s discretion between learning modalities, at least one of which is online learning (Clayton Christensen Institute, 2015, p.1).” Station rotation is often the easiest model of blended learning for teachers to implement. It can be done with limited technology and it allows the teacher to differentiate tasks based on learning level, learning modalities, or both.”

I explained to my student that by deploying station rotations in her classroom, she could solve her problem of practice: differentiating for all of her students. Station rotation allows all of the students, not just the ELLs, to work in smaller learning communities. Within the stations, the teacher can provide students with differentiated tasks designed to increase engagement and meet students at their learning levels. Station rotation also would allow her to have more time to directly work with students in small groups. By simply changing the structure of the 90-minute block, all of the students would get a much more personalized, connected learning experience based on their individual needs. 

If you are setting up Station Rotations for the first time, here are some tips to get you started:

Make Groups: The most common grouping structure for station rotation is homogenous groups based on certain criteria like academic level or learning modality. However, you should consider making heterogeneous groups for certain station rotation lessons. Whatever group structure you decide on, make sure that you name groups to avoid stigmatization. Therefore, make group names using colors, sports teams, animals, etc. versus numbers or “high, medium, or low.”

Create Systems: Prior to implementing station rotations in your classroom, think about what systems you’ll need to put in place to signal to the group that a  station is over, that it is time to transition, and set expectations for how students will clean up. Some common tools that teachers use for these systems are timers large enough for the whole classroom to see (such as one projected on a SmartBoard), bells/buzzers to signal the end of a rotation, and visibly posting groups and the order that they will go in during the station rotation. Don’t forget to practice these systems before you implement your first station rotation. Finally, make sure to practice these systems throughout the school year if students don’t transition correctly or do not clean up their stations properly.  

Build Independence: Implementing this new learning style will be an adjustment for both you and your students, especially with the new level of independence and responsibility that you’ll be expecting from the students. You can build independence with station rotation by slowly building up to 20-30 minute rotations. Start with 8-10 minute rotations and every week add more time to arrive at 20-30 minute rotations. Next, ensure that there are extension activities for early finishers at non-teacher led stations and pre-teach students how/where to access those materials. Finally, teach students how to independently problem-solve if an issue arises at a station. Some problem-solve examples include “Googling it,” ask three peers, or having student “technology ambassadors” who can troubleshoot common technology issues. 

Now go out there and make some stations!