Blended learning is something that is near and dear to my heart. For me, the journey began back in 2011 when we first introduced the flipped approach at New Milford High School, where I was principal, with resounding success. As I transitioned from the principalship to supporting districts and schools, I learned that blended learning was a powerful pedagogical strategy that could unleash students' potential while meeting their diverse needs. Over the course of many years, my work with Wells Elementary School provided a foundation that I pull from to this very day. It's one thing to talk about blended learning, but another to actually illustrate the many ways it can be implemented effectively and at scale. Wells did the latter exceptionally well.
Technology is a significant component, but not every activity has to incorporate some type of tool. The key is to find strategic ways to use it as a means to improve learning, something that is emphasized in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms. There are many ways to blend, but it is vital to have a firm understanding of the underlying premise of this strategy. Hence, the definition I created a few years back:
Blended instruction is what the teacher does with technology. Blended learning is where students use tech to have control over path, place, and pace.
In the past, I have penned detailed posts on choice boards, playlists, and the flipped classroom while only touching on the station rotation model. Thus, I thought it might be appropriate to dedicate a post just to this strategy. With station rotation or centers as it is often referred to at the elementary level, the overreaching goal is to use valuable class time more effectively. Following a short period of direct instruction with the entire class, the teacher breaks students into groups using data where the class engages in a series of activities during a set period of time. Each learner will visit all the stations, and a timer is used to let them know how long they have to engage in the activity. Typical stations include the following:
- Targeted instruction or support
- Collaborative experience
- Personalization through the use of adaptive tools
- Independent work
There is no set number of activities that a teacher can develop for this model. However, I most commonly see three or four. A modified two-station model could be used at the secondary level, where half the class works with the teacher while the other completes independent work using technology. We need to get past the perception that this is just an "elementary" strategy. To assist in setting up station rotation, I have created a pedagogical framework, which you can view below. What you will see are traditional elements of effective instruction at the front and back end. It is essential to use a good data source for groupings so the learners get the most out of the targeted instruction or support rotation. It is here where achievement gaps are closed, and the kids who are already at or beyond standard attainment can be pushed.
The image above can be adapted based on the length of the class period. In addition to the use of data for groupings, a timer for pacing is also essential as it aids in self-regulation and time management. An important aspect is to build in activities that promote collaboration. Here is where an interactive whiteboard (IWB) can be used to unlock its true potential. Below you will see two examples from Corinth Elementary School that meet all the requirements for an effective station rotation.
Keep in mind that there are many ways to set up this model. Overall efficacy relies on data being used to continuously group and re-group students, strategic use of adaptive learning tools, independent work that is rigorous and relevant, and the opportunity to collaborate actively. There is only one thing educators can control: the time with students in the classroom. Station rotation, when used strategically, can be used to differentiate while also building essential competencies such as time management and self-regulation. It's a win-win at any level.