In the Station Rotation Model, “students rotate through learning stations either on a fixed schedule or at the teacher’s discretion” (Tucker, 2015). Learning stations can include small group instruction, small group work, collaborative projects, or online learning, but a blended learning model comprises at least one online learning station. How a teacher can check for understanding and create re-teaching stations for students struggling with a particular concept, while other students pursue enrichment or extension work?
Personalized Learning and Formative Assessments
Tucker: I think the goal is to feel less like we have to manage everything. And it’s scary to let go and trust that kids can do it, but they are so capable. Doesn’t mean they won’t need some, you know, skill building and some redirection at times, but they can do it. And if the tasks are interesting and engaging, some of those management pieces kind of fall away eventually anyway. But that’s another, that’s another conversation.
So one of the things that I focus on a lot in my work with teachers who are planning for online learning because I’ve been a traditional classroom teacher, I taught blended learning courses, and I’ve taught entirely online, and I do know from experience that that physical distance between teacher and student online makes it harder to kind of track where kids are at. It’s harder to have your thumb on, okay, who’s stagnating, who’s making progress, who needs more, who didn’t get this. And so being really intentional about building those mechanisms into our lessons to collect formative assessment data is critical. Otherwise it’s very hard to, at the very least differentiate learning, and at the very best to personalize learning. And so for me, just reminding teachers that you know, that can happen at three different points in a learning cycle. You can assess prior knowledge at the beginning. We know not every kid is starting from the same spot. So are we being intentional about trying to understand where they are starting from, what they already know, or what the misconceptions they’re bringing into a particular learning cycle is? Then obviously, that check for understanding along the way – what are they getting, what are they missing, what have I maybe not been super clear about? Then getting them reflecting on the learning that has happened. Taking a step back to identify what did I learn, how did I learn it, what am I still confused about? You don’t have to do all three in every single lesson but just being aware that we want to be integrating those mechanisms as much as possible, not to shove a bunch of points in a gradebook, which I’m very clear when I talk to teachers, it’s a signal for us. Where are kids at and what do they need?
Then as we think about the station rotation, you know, when we start doing those checks for understanding, we’re going to have kids who are in different places. And so using that data, that information, to inform – “You know what, today I’m going to group kids this way because this group actually needs this, this group would benefit from this, and this group over here needs this.” So in that teacher-led station, we’re being really nimble. And it’s fascinating because over the years, what I’ve heard from teachers who that hasn’t quite clicked for them yet is, “I don’t know why I would do station rotation? I’m saying the same thing three times or four times. Why would I do that?” And I’m like well, if you’re saying the same thing, the same way, three or four times, then that’s not a good use of your time.
But kids are very different. They have different needs and skills and interests and language proficiencies and are we taking that into account when we design this teacher-led station? Even if we’re going to cover the same skills or content with each group, maybe the scaffold supports, the problems, the prompts we’re using are slightly different depending on the kids that we’re working with. And so I think that’s kind of – you almost have to get comfortable with the rotation, make the mistakes that are just typical at the beginning of trying something new. And then start layering on that complexity of like, really being diligent about building in formative assessment mechanisms and differentiating those experiences at the various stations. And start with your teacher-led station, because that’s the one that’s going to be the most natural for you to start to make those kind of adjustments.
There is strong evidence and recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as others, that school leaders should “prioritize” full-time, in-person classes for the youngest children in elementary school, special needs children, foster youth, and homeless students. What ideas do you have to help LEAs balance schedules to accommodate this approach, while the majority of students continue to learn online?
Bringing Back Small Cohorts
Magyar: I kind of wanted to get at this larger issue of why we might be bringing the younger students back to in-person instruction or on campus in some way. We think a lot of LEAs are going to probably be adopting this approach, where you have either the cohorts of high-need students or kind of the younger students. So can you speak to the rationale behind that, some of the the pros and cons to that, anything that we could do to help LEAs accommodate this, because you’re actually speaking to how young learners can really thrive in the online space. And so I’m just kind of curious your thoughts about the waiver options and bringing these students back.
Tucker: Well, ironically, I think the most successful young learning I’ve seen happening online, is really prioritizing getting those kiddos off the screen. You know, have them pull together, build community, give an overview for the week. And then you have like, you know, I’ve seen elementary teachers who’ve been successful in this moment – it’s not easy, but they’ve been successful – where they’ll start with one of those quick 20 minutes, almost like replicating circle time on a Zoom call where the goal is like, “Let’s make connections. Let’s have fun. Let’s figure out where we’re going this week.” And then the rest of the week, the teachers are doing a really beautiful job of small group, like pulling kids into small group instruction, spending 15-20 minutes with this group, and moving.
It’s exhausting for the teacher, but then they’ve done a beautiful job of releasing kids to do things, whether it’s printing, or going outside and coloring pictures, or identifying colors and shapes, and all these different things, where they really found a way to allow young learners to engage in that experiential, very tactile learning that is so important for them. And quite frankly, younger learners don’t have the self regulation skills developed yet to be a successful in this asynchronous learning or even synchronous online learning. We have high school kids who are struggling with that and so I think it’s really appropriate to try to get those kids back into physical spaces in a safe way obviously as soon as possible, because of the smaller attention spans at that age, you know like I said, not having those self regulation skills, and there’s also just like the social component, right. Some of these kids have never been in school or daycare, anything beyond their home environment. And there’s a lot to be said about that social interaction, that social learning that happens when you have to negotiate with other tiny people who want to get in your space and they want your stuff. You know, so those pieces, you can’t replicate that experience online as much as we would love to. As I said, I think what should be happening in the classroom are those pieces that really benefit from social learning and human interaction. And kids that age, they just love their teachers, right, like they have such a connection. And I heard a quote on an NPR story I was listening to where they were talking to a parent and they asked the kid a question. She’s a kindergartener and she’s online. They were like, “Do you have any friends in your class yet?” And she goes, “No, not yet. I haven’t met anybody. Just seeing them on the screen.” I was like, oh my god, I want to cry.
Hybrid Learning: Getting it Right
Armelino: Hybrid, I think, is where we see people shifting towards and we hope, at least we’re getting closer, right. I’m really curious on how do we make sure we get hybrid right? How do we do this right? And advice that you have on how to manage, you know, in-school instruction. And in particular, I think what we’ve seen too is, is that the hybrid model, I think for a lot of folks, is based on scheduling, right? If I was a school leader, what advice would you give me about how to approach hybrid learning, as we think about bringing kids back to school?
Tucker: Hybrid refers to so many variations so if we were going to do a hybrid schedule, my dream schedule would be having kids in one group in class Monday, Tuesday. Wednesday is a teacher work day with some online personalized support, and then we see another group on Thursday, Friday. And I know there are some schools adopting that specific schedule, which I think is awesome. And that way, we keep numbers low and we have the cohort system and all that.
I mean, I, in my own recommendations and like the last chapter of my doctoral study was like, I love to re-examine this idea of seat time and that learning only happens in a classroom and really approach the design. Like I’d love everybody to start playing around with blended learning models and start really prioritizing, allowing kids more control over elements of their learning, both in and outside of class. But I don’t want to see those moments of learning asynchronously at home as “throw away.” There’s so many ways to engage kids in dynamic, asynchronous learning that can set them up for a much richer experience when we dive deep, when we’re all together, or when you’re with your cohort in the physical classroom. So really thinking intentionally about which learning activities do I want kids to engage in that will benefit from them controlling time, place, and pace? And which really will benefit from that social learning, that human interaction? And I’m going to start to design learning for these two different landscapes with that information in mind. I mean, that would be definitely my advice.
Armelino: Anything different for secondary?
Tucker: No, not really. I mean, I think the kinds of things we ask kids to do might be different. But no, I still think it’s really, it’s an intentionality around the design work that we do as educators. And letting kids make more decisions, right. Not feeling like we have to control everything. And actually realizing that in releasing some of that control, we actually might engage kids that otherwise are disengaged in this moment.