It is easy to become overwhelmed with the sheer amount of syllabus that we, as faculty, need to work through during the semester. Inevitably, there are sections that even we struggle to find interesting. It can become hard to motivate students when we are teaching such sections. I’ve found that learning stations work well for me in such cases. The preparation that I have to put in to design the stations and process always means that I end up finding an interesting angle from which to approach the lesson. The fact that students have to move around the classroom and complete activities with differing levels of difficulty always means that they are not distracted from the core material and engage with it in a more meaningful way.
Some of you may be familiar with the concept of a learning station and others not. Therefore, for those of you who have not used this particular tool before, I will provide a brief outline as to what it is. So what is a learning station? Rollins (23 March 2017, online) writes: ‘at their best, stations encourage student autonomy, critical thinking, collaboration, and student engagement’. Learning stations can only achieve this when they have been well designed by us, the lecturer. Picture your classroom with between four – six learning stations in the form of desks spaced about your classroom with different activities based on the material you are teaching that day. Each desk has a set of instructions and an activity. Students move around the classroom in groups and are given time at each station in order to complete the activity. The teacher keeps a strict monitor on the time and can either go from group to group offering encouragement or be stationary at one group and have a “teacher-led station”. Stations are not a way of removing any responsibility for the learning from the teacher but are a way of placing some of the responsibility of learning on the students. They are a dynamic and interactive way of bringing some fun to your classroom, without sacrificing content time.
Rollins (23 March 2017, online) provides the following tips to think about when planning learning stations so that the experience can be maximized by both you and your students.
Six tips for planning Learning Stations
1. Assign team leaders to help students navigate the stations.
2. When appropriate, place answer keys at the stations so that students can self-assess.
3. Consider incorporating an engaging anchor activity. Students carry these with them from station to station and work on these during any free time.
4. Plan furniture arrangement and travel routes to expedite stations.
5. Have materials already on tables ready to go.
6. Utilize a timer, and announce when they have about a minute left, to “Pack up the station, and get ready to move!”
There is no doubt that to start, using learning stations will be a labor intensive process for you the lecturer. Once you have your basic first lesson planned though, it is easier to plan further sessions based on this principle. I use learning stations to teach referencing systems and the dangers of plagiarism. My students appreciate the fact that they are not simply sitting and being talked at about a subject that at its very best can be described as challenging and I appreciate the fact that my students are actually engaging with the concepts and techniques and not merely playing around on their cellphones.
Rollins, S.P. (23 March 2017). Three questions to guide teaching through learning stations. Available at: https://www.teachthought.com/pedagogy/3-questions-to-guide-teaching-through-learning-stations/