station rotations

Playlists with Stations Are Music to My Ears—Best Ever First Days of School FTW!

In my last post, I shared a preview of my playlists with stations first days activity.  We used the first three days of class to engage in a variety of literacy learning tasks to engage students in classroom community building, engage in some reading and writing, and knock out some beginning of the year tech tasks.   I am happy to share that the playlist oriented activity was a huge success—students were engaged right off the bat, and they did a fabulous job working through the stations at their own pace during our first three days of class August 7-9.

Just to recap from the last post (you can also get a video tour of the stations in that post), here are my stations on the playlist:

  • Station 1: “One Word” language and art activity
  • Station 2: Brainstorming positive behaviors to help us learn and brainstorming behaviors to avoid that get in the way of learning. (free signs via TPT)
  • Station 3: All About You as a Reader/Writer Survey (Google Form)
  • Station 4: Critical Reading and Constructed Response in Canvas (see below)
  • Station 5: Silent Conversation Response Activity on What Makes a Great Book or Read
  • Station 6: Sign up for NoRedInk
  • Station 7: Syllabus Station
  • Station 8: Writing Skills Wishlist
  • Station 9: Partner Work Brainstorming Ways to Care for Our Classroom Materials and Workspace
  • Station 10: Putting the U in Language Arts Survey: (purchased on TPT here as part of a bundled purchase plus a free version)

A few reflections that I’d like to share about my first ever go at using the playlist strategy:

  • Using the playlist strategy with stations really upped the accountability piece for students, and it provided me ten different opportunities for quick formative assessments in different areas with my students.  I cannot stress how insightful this was for me, and how much the playlist aspect helped keep students on track with very little direction from me.
  • Active learning experiences and structures as well as station work in a variety of formats are staples of classroom for my 8th graders.  Using the playlist with stations helped establish the tone and expectations I wanted for the beginning of the year.
  • Observing students in action was instrumental in giving me a sense of students as learners—who works well independently, who might need just a bit of coaching, who works well with partners, how well students can follow written instructions, and how well students manage their learning time.
  • The check in with the playlist helped me learn names much more quickly the first few days!

I was very fortunate that my tech-oriented stations worked well since our hardware and software applications were ready to go for Day 1 along with student log-ins.  I must give props to our media specialist Tracey Kell, school technology specialist Terrie Hudson, and our district tech gods/goddesses for all their work over the summer and behind the scenes prior to pre-planning that helped us be tech-ready—with hardware, student log-ins, and software apps via our Launchpoint portal– on Day 1.  I am also pleased that the time I put into designing the stations and getting everything set up paid off because students were able to navigate the stations very easily and with minimal assistance from me.

The first days of the school year are the best I’ve had in many years—maybe ever!  My 8th graders are going to be a terrific group to teach and learn with this year, but I do feel the playlist with stations helped establish the right notes on those first days.  I am grateful for our assistant principal Libbie Armstrong for showing and modeling this strategy with teachers during pre-planning, and I know many of my fellow teachers across multiple grade levels and subject areas utilized the strategy with great success as well.

Eve of First Day with Students Plus a Tour of My Station Rotations with a Playlist Twist for the First Days

Notes: 

  • Station 1: “One Word” language and art activity
  • Station 2: Brainstorming positive behaviors to help us learn and brainstorming behaviors to avoid that get in the way of learning.  (free signs via TPT)
  • Station 3: All About You as a Reader/Writer Survey (Google Form)
  • Station 4: Critical Reading and Constructed Response in Canvas (see below)
  • Station 5: Silent Conversation Response Activity on What Makes a Great Book or Read
  • Station 6: Sign up for NoRedInk
  • Station 7: Syllabus Station
  • Station 8: Writing Skills Wishlist
  • Station 9: Partner Work Brainstorming Ways to Care for Our Classroom Materials and Workspace
  • Station 10: Putting the U in Language Arts Survey:  (purchased on TPT)

Station 4 asks students to accept the Canvas course invitation; then, students read an argumentative essay in NewsELA and write a constructed response analyzing the writer’s argument and techniques for developing the argument.

All station learning activity design is by me and original; station posters/templates are from Building Book Love on Teachers Pay Teachers.

“Milestones Mania and More!” Station Rotations and Review

Springtime in Georgia brings abundant pollen, April showers, restless middle school learners, and the state end of year Milestones testing.  This year I decided to craft “work at your own pace” station rotations that emphasized the three types of writing prompts students would see plus some additional stations to support our study of poetry and independent choice nonfiction book reading.  In addition to sample writing prompts and exemplars to examine at each station, students also had the opportunity to practice some of the sample multiple choice items.  Using state released materials, I crafted stations to help my students unpack constructed responses (2 points each of varying DOK levels but primarily Level 3 and 4), extended constructed responses (on our assessment, this is always a 4 point narrative writing prompt), and extended essay, a 7 point essay that is always argumentative or informational in nature.  Below is a tour of the stations to give you an idea of what students  explored at each station:

Because of time limitations, I did not ask students to complete any of the writing prompts, but every station asked students to consider these common questions:

  • What is the writing prompt asking you to do?
  • How might you go about tackling this kind of writing prompt?
  • What strategies might you use to plan for this prompt?
  • What qualities do you notice in the exemplar responses?  What did the writer do well?
  • How is the exemplar response different from the ones that did not get full credit?

Because of our testing schedule and adjustments needed to make those days work, not every class period has been meeting for the exact same number of minutes.   However, all classes had approximately 7 class days to work through as many of the stations as they could.  Students budgeted roughly 10-20 minutes per station depending on the tasks at each station.

My original plan was to have table groups lead discussions for each station.  However, time constraints allowed me to do this with only class.  I still wanted to have some kind of whole group discussion or conversation around the stations but be able to complete it in two class sessions.  Last Wednesday evening, I quickly punted and crafted a multiple choice, fill in the blank, and short answer document that allowed us to review every station question as a point of discussion; the document was 11 pages and gave students something concrete to take home and review over the weekend.  For students who were absent or even those who were present but may have left their review document in their locker, a PDF of the document with an answer key was posted in our Canvas course for easy access.

Thought we started testing for Language Arts this past Monday and classes met in the afternoon for a shorter time than normal, I wanted to do one final pass that afternoon at reviewing prompts.  I designed another multiple choice style document that served as our warm-up and a final “look” at all types of writing prompts.  Students kept these and were able to take them home in their “spring learning” folders.

This is a somewhat different approach than I used with my juniors last year, but overall, I’m pleased with how students worked through the stations and even my “triage” solution to address the time shortage for review/whole group discussion around the station work.  In some ways, it may have been better for my 8th grade learners since they ended up having two hard copy resources to take home as a review/study tool to help them recognize the three different kind of prompts and to consider best ways to take on these kinds of prompts without sucking all their writing energy out of them prior to the actual state test.

I am definitely not an advocate of teaching to a test, but I do feel a responsibility to my students to help them be prepared for the language of the test, especially the writing tasks.  With the exception of the narrative writing tasks, we did many writing assignments that paralleled the constructed response tasks and essay writing tasks as part of our daily literacy learning; in addition, each of our three district benchmarks gave students additional opportunities to practice these writing tasks in a “test” setting.  Looking ahead to next year, I’m going to integrate more “timed” writings for these kinds of prompts and embed them as a part of the natural flow of units of study of literature and reading so that students will feel more comfortable by May with the prompts and completing them in a timed setting.

Counterclaim Station Throwdown

After introducing claim statements with a task card walk last Wednesday, we then began inquiring into counterclaims and rebuttals on Thursday and Friday.   I decided to do station rotations as our learning activity, and after a little tweaking with my first two classes, I polished the learning structure for my final two groups.

We began with notes and guided practice just as we did with claims.   Students then had an opportunity to choose a table group; again, the parameters included:

  • You must leave your current table area.
  • You cannot sit with anyone from your regular table group.
  • No more than four people per table (I did allow five for my larger classes if needed).

Using these counterclaim task cards and some additional practice problems I purchased here, I created six stations.  The first five stations gave students four paragraphs to read and asked students to find the counterclaim in each one.  I made copies of each set of four task cards on neon paper and placed them in a folder with all the identifying information (station number and task card numbers).  Working through rounds of 8-10 segments, students read the paragraphs and identified counterclaims and rebuttals at their stations.  I played soft music in the background through our projector speakers for something white noise to help students focus.  I normally don’t do timed station rotations, but this activity was a good fit, plus it kept students focused and engaged, something that is not always easy to do, especially on a Friday afternoon!

Once groups had completed each station, groups were charged to discuss their answers for the current table (where they ended) and to come to a consensus about their answers and to be prepared to defend their choices.  After taking about 6-7 minutes for this discussion and planning, each group had an opportunity to participate in our “throwdown” as they came to the board and marked up and explained their answers.  Groups not presenting checked and corrected their answers; this work was turned in as a non-graded formative assessment to help me identify any students who might be struggling or need some additional targeted practice to do independently.  I am also providing all students additional practice with a mastery module through NoRedInk.

This activity was the perfect combination of independent to small group collaborative work to a large group share, and the element of “team” competition in the “throwdown” was once again an energizing element.  The table talk in which groups had to compare answers and come to a consensus was probably the most valuable aspect of the learning experience because students really had to dig in and explain their responses—I heard many meaningful conversations throughout the day on Friday.  This is also another way to integrate targeted practice and task cards into instruction.  Even more impressive to me was how focused and thoughtful students were in their work, no small feat with middle schoolers on a Friday afternoon!  I think it is important to incorporate opportunities for students to talk and construct meaning with their peers whether it is with a partner, in a small group, or with the entire class.

Our next learning activity will have students working with a partner as we look at a mentor text argumentative essay and use Gretchen Bernabei’s kernel essay strategy to help students deconstruct the argumentative essay structure.  Stay tuned!

Introducing Early American Literature Time Period Background Information with Writer’s Notebooks, Doors of Wonder, and Station Rotations

If you teach a high school course that has traditionally leaned toward a survey type course of a particular canon of literature, you know that getting students interested in the background information can sometimes be a challenge. After only a few days with my students, I knew that a traditional lecture or time period overview even with engaging visually oriented slides was not a good fit for my learners, especially not this early in the academic year (this is week 2 for us).   In addition, my school is on a modified block, so mixing things up and giving students a chance to move about the room, collaborate, and providing them with both quiet times and active times of learning are essential to keeping students’ learning energy up for 90 minutes.

Because our Writer’s Notebook time is already a fixed part of our learning routine, I decided to give students an opportunity to read a map from our textbook that provided a snapshot of where different Native American nations lived on the North American continent.  I wanted to give them space to:

A.  read or interpret the map and make inferences

B.  make connections to prior knowledge

C.  ignite curiosity:  wonder and ask questions

Take a look at our notebook invitation

Because of the detail of the map, I projected the image on the board and provided students with a copy to look at more closely; once again, my beloved neon ticket holders are a great tool for delivering materials to students.  Once students in both my 11th ELA Honors and “on level’ courses had 10-12 minutes to write, students could volunteer to share something from their notebook.  While I am not a huge fan of extrinsic rewards, the reality is that at 7:30 AM, some students need a little incentive to speak up, so I offered bonus points on their work for the day if they chose to share.  With the exception of one class, the level of participation was excellent and may have encouraged some of my shyer students to speak out.  I was truly impressed with the depth and range of their thinking in their responses, and I think the students enjoyed hearing from each other as well.

We then put our notebooks aside, and students received a second graphic organizer.  I then explained that I had summarized the background information for our first few selections that we’ll read this week and next; I also explained that I had broken the information up into “chunks” with 8 different reading stations (also housed in the neon ticket holders/pouches).

Their job was to read the information and decide what the three most important ideas/concepts/facts were to record in their notetaking graphic organizer.  They could write more, but three was the minimum.  When they finished all eight stations, they were to re-read what they had recorded and then write what they felt were their three big takeways from all the readings.

  

 

Students worked approximately 35 minutes on the stations; they had the option to work alone or with a partner. Students also had the option to snap photos of each station so that they could work wherever they were if a station was crowded.

Only one class had time to do our Door of Wonder activity, inspired by Matt Griesinger at Moving Writers.  Our wonderings came from notebook entries; publishing our wonderings was important, especially since so many students chose to share them with the class during our share out time earlier.  For many students, these wonderings will be a path to a mini-inquiry project we’ll do after Labor Day.  The rest of my classes will publish to their door or wall of wonder tomorrow and Friday.

I love that our room is quickly filling up with learning artifacts from the students!  Stay tuned for the next post as we infuse Post-It notes, new reflection stations after we read three short Native American works of literature, QR codes, and more!