In the middle of the year, I always find myself wanting to try new and interesting ways to engage my students so that they don’t burn out before Spring Break… so I DON’T burn out before Spring Break. This year, my fifth and sixth periods happen to be right after lunch. This is a hard enough time to keep the best behaved classes on task, much less those that have a high number of special needs. Last year, in an attempt to mix things up, my collaborative teacher and I adapted the elementary way of thinking and implemented a week long workshop station approach. This year, we aim to make it a bit longer and add a few more stations.
I am lucky that my room already lends itself to this style of teaching and learning anyway. We have already established a pretty firm management system for our flexible seating – you can read that post here.
Here are a few tips for anyone who wants to try a workshop approach to English at a middle school level:
- WHAT WILL THEY DO?
Think about how many students you have in each class and how many activities they can do independently while you are either monitoring behavior or teaching at a station. This is not a good time to introduce something new and complicated that they will have lots of questions about. You might also want to consider restocking supplies that they might need at stations and firming up on your classroom management so that students have plenty of warning that there will be a consequence if stations are not done properly. What this looks like in my class:
This year we will have six stations:
2. My co-teacher
3. Word Study (see this post about how to set this up)
4. Membean.com (our vocabulary program)
6. iStation assignments (free online reading app in Texas)We are very lucky to be a 1:1 iPad school. Other station ideas could include reading silently, reading a book with a partner or your group, flashcards for academic vocabulary, studying assigned vocabulary words, parts of the writing process, grammar practice, practicing any part of a previous lesson, or even completing independent work to be checked at the teacher station.
- GET ORGANIZED:
Some teachers choose to let their students choose where they would like to work. I certainly see value in this, but with these two particular classes, I’m choosing to assign them a station and a group. In doing so, I tried to make sure groups were well balanced with a good mix of strong leaders, talkers, get-up-out-of-their-seaters, constant bathroom and water goers, and a mix of low ability and high ability. Each student will get a file folder with a station rotation card and a reflection/goal setting sheet. I’ve also stapled in some notebook paper to house their “WORDS TO LEARN” lists. What this looks like in my class:
- THINK REALISTICALLY:
Think realistically about the amount of time you have each class period. Counting the time it takes to take attendance, make announcements, give instructions, start stations, and rotate between, you may have much less time than you have budgeted for and end up frustrated. Having a plan on how absent students will make up station time or work will also help to make things go smoothly. What this looks like in my class:
Our school has 52 minute classes. I have made each student a personal station folder out of a file folder, a piece of card stock, and some notebook paper. They will turn in their station reflection at the end of the week on Friday after their word study tests. Any worksheets can also be stored inside for when they are absent to be completed upon return. Here is how the 52 minutes are broken down:
3 minutes – attendance and writing down homework
7 minutes – writer’s notebook entry / blog entry
3 minutes – transition time
19 minutes – Mondays are for mini-lesson, T,W, Th are stations
20 minutes – station time & pack up
- TO MONITOR OR NOT TO MONITOR:
Using yourself as a station will allow you to work with students on an individual or small-group level on any type of skills that they need while the station rotation model will allow you to see a good number of students each class period and throughout the week. With two teachers in the room, this is totally doable; however, it might be necessary to wait until your students have a firm grasp of what is expected of them at each station as far as behavior and academic requirements. If I were starting without having a solid history of monitoring my students while they work in groups, then I would certainly be walking around the room making sure that I was available to help with technology glitches and to make sure everyone was doing their job. What this looks like in my class:
- RECOGNIZE WHAT IS AND IS NOT WORKING:
I keep a tabbed binder for each class period and store notes from writing conferences behind a reading log of what book each child is reading. This is certainly not for everyone, but it is what works for me. This is a great way for me to document what accommodations are being used, how the student responded to them, behavior, etc. I’m also not permanently attached to a particular station – If a particular group is not responding well to an activity, then documentation will help to reflect and find what might work better.
I would love to hear from you if you use a workshop approach in your secondary classroom? What do you do differently that we could benefit from knowing? What are some other ideas for stations? Let’s discuss in the comments below!