3 Ways the Station Rotation Model Personalizes Learning

Dec 14, 2023
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Once commonly known as “center time” in the elementary classroom, the stations approach to learning has since evolved with blended learning’s widespread adoption. Now regularly referred to as the “station rotation model,” this method is used at many different grade levels to personalize instruction.

Defined by the Clayton Christensen Institute, the station rotation model involves students moving through the classroom in small groups to engage in different forms of learning through meaningful self-guided practice and exploration. Before you dig into creating new stations for this year, let’s take a look at how effectively implementing the station rotation model will also personalize learning for students. This model:

1. Continuously moves learning forward

Stations aren’t just a time to unveil shiny new materials and manipulatives—however, that’s a fun perk too! Rather, the station rotation model centers around providing opportunities for every student to make progress at his or her own pace. This involves creating centers that utilize technology, support collaboration, and provide different ways to demonstrate learning. What it doesn’t mean, however, is creating a one-size-fits-all activity for every center that you change out each week. So, how do you identify effective center activities? Take a look at this example.

For elementary students, decoding new words and reinforcing good spelling habits require regular practice to really sink in. In a print-rich classroom environment, the opportunities to build on these skills are endless with various forms of print around the room. Your center could include any number of individualized activities, including seeking out words in the room that rhyme or start with a particular letter. Students could also be challenged to use words they find in the classroom to build a short story. Students could even pair up, giving clues about the words they found to help their partner guess. Finally, an online station may use learning programs to assist with building important phonetic skills incrementally.

The materials don’t have to change, as the key to success is that students engage in meaningful practice that allows them to deepen their understanding of a specific skill in alignment with their needs.

2. Supports student agency

The improvements in behavior management that the station rotation model yields are often enough to make it all worthwhile. Once expectations are defined, the threat of losing out on precious time rotating through fun and exciting centers is enough to ensure that rules are followed. That’s often because this is a time during the day when students of all ages are given choice!

Choices can include whom students work with, where they choose to sit, and how they wish to demonstrate learning that day. Within a set of reasonable parameters, students are able to take control of their own learning trajectory, and the results are spectacular. For example, in this structure, one student could be lying across a few pillows while reading the next chapter of a book started earlier in the week, while another sits at a table journaling about the conflict and resolution of the latest read. No two students need to be doing the same thing, and this opportunity for a little freedom can greatly improve the feelings your students develop about their educational experience.

3. Creates a flexible structure to individualize instruction

When it comes to setting up stations in your classroom, the ones that students rotate to independently are just part of the equation. A truly effective station rotation model facilitates a process that allows you, as the educator, to simultaneously pull small groups of students aside so that you can work with them in a personalized setting.

The amount of progress that can be made in this small window is beyond compare to any other instructional time in your day. As such, making this 15, 20, or even 30 minutes a powerful learning experience should always be prioritized in your weekly lesson planning.

Recognizing that you might not have all of the answers about who needs what is a good start. Let data from online tools, formative assessments, and your own observations be your guide to help you quickly take action on how your instruction should unfold. Most importantly, get used to mixing up your groups to ensure that you’re supporting students according to their individualized strengths and needs. The skill you’re working with students on this week may not be what your low-performing group from the week before needs extra assistance with. Your time working with students is valuable—make the most of every minute by striving to infuse personalized learning experiences.

Want to learn more about how you can use a station rotation model to empower small-group instruction? Check our Realizing the Magic That Is Small-Group Instruction

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