- Active learning promotes knowledge retention.
- Student-centered learning improves student efficacy.
- Cooperative learning contributes to classroom community.
- Increased engagement helps classroom management.
Recently, I completed this Long Way Down Symbolism Analysis Stations activity with my sophomores, and the day was magical. My students actively participated in literary analysis and high-level discussion. They were engaged.
As I stepped back and observed my learners, I made a mental note to incorporate more station work in my classroom. As I heard bits and pieces of my students discussing Reynolds’ use of symbolism and why it was effective, I also started thinking about some of the benefits of the activity.
Setting up learning stations in the secondary ELA classroom, whether the high school English class or the middle school ELAR class, has many benefits for students.
1. Active Learning
Incorporating station work into your instructional methods is a great way to get students up, out of their seats, and moving around. My first period of the day is always a struggle. I have a classroom filled with 35 tired and half-asleep students struggling to wake up. But when I incorporate stations, I notice that their sleepiness fades away almost instantly. Getting students up and moving helps oxygenate their blood and wake them up, plus it has additional learning benefits!
In their study “Active Learning: Effects of Core Training Design Elements on Student Learning,” Ruhl, Hughes, and Schloss found that students who engaged in active learning strategies such as station work had higher exam scores and better retention of information than those who did not.
A great benefit of station work in the secondary ELA classroom is that it is student-center. Students are the conductors, and teachers act as the facilitator. Rotating through a series of stations, students take the reins of learning. They take their learning into their hands and are actively consuming the content.
In their study “Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being,” Ryan and Deci found that when students have autonomy and control over their learning, they are likelier to be engaged and motivated. Some station work allows students to work at their own pace and choose the order in which they complete stations, giving them a sense of control over their learning experience.
3. Classroom Community
As I set up my first classroom during the summer weeks leading up to my first year of teaching, I quickly swapped out the tables for individual desks. I thought individual desks would be better for classroom management. Still, I didn’t realize then that I was taking away quick-and-easy opportunities for collaborative work and building classroom community. Now, I have my room set up in table groups, and I utilize my table groups often in my teaching. Not a day goes by without me asking my students to discuss with their tablemates before bringing the conversation to the whole class.
Incorporating station work into the classroom is another way to build classroom community. Students can either work in their assigned groups or in groups of their choosing, under teacher direction, on completing the tasks at hand. Because station work is an excellent alternative to whole-group direct instruction, students build community and connections as they work through the material. And to add to the classroom community, I will often find an empty seat and join the table with the students and listen to their conversation, add in some deep-thinking points, and praise what they are doing well. That kind of instruction and feedback is powerful.
4. Collaborative Learning
As mentioned above, station work is a great alternative to direct instruction. And while I still plan my teacher-focused direct instruction days, I prefer the collaborative learning experience of stations. Students are more invested in the work because they work collaboratively through the content and learning.
In their study “Cooperative Learning Strategies: Maximizing Student Learning,” Johnson, Johnson, and Holubec share that cooperative learning strategies, including station work, can increase student engagement and motivation. They also found that station work can improve social skills such as communication and problem-solving.
5. Individualized instruction and feedback
One of the best benefits of station activities is that it allows me to check in with students individually, provide one-on-one instruction, and easily and quickly assess and see how my students are doing. During a single station rotation, it doesn’t take much time to visit each table and check in to see how the group is doing.
In their study “Differentiated Instruction and Implications for UDL Implementation,” Tomlinson points to the effectiveness of individualized instruction and differentiation that station work provides. In the study, Tomlinson notes that differentiation is a critical component of effective instruction, and station work is a versatile strategy that can be modified to meet the needs of diverse learners.
With station work, I can keep my students in their table groups, mix them in heterogeneous groups, or pair them with like abilities depending on what I need!
6. Easy to Assess
Station work is easy to assess because the formative assessment happens in class as students work. As mentioned above, I love walking around the room when my students work on their stations.
In their study “Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment,” Black and Wiliam shared that providing personalized feedback can significantly improve student learning outcomes, according to this study. They concluded that station work allows teachers to provide feedback to small groups of students, which can help them identify areas of strength and areas for improvement.
After walking around the room during stations, I can more easily see what my students know and what skills I need to go back and reteach.
7. Improve Classroom Management
Throughout my credential program, I heard, “engaged students won’t act out” more times than I could count. And while there is some validity in that statement, it is not a one-size fits all solution to classroom management; I’ve found some truth in it. I’ve observed that when my students are more engaged with hands-on learning, they are less likely to be off-task. Even more so, when I spend more than 15 minutes on direct instruction, I see students lose interest. Station work helps alleviate that.
In their study “Classroom Management: Reducing Disruptive Behavior Through Station Work,” Gable, Hester, Rock, and Hughes share that using station work in the classroom can reduce disruptive behavior and increase on-task behavior among students.
With all of these benefits that stations provide for both students and teachers, here are some resources to use for station-based activities.