stations

Exploring Characterization in “Raymond’s Run” with Playlist Stations

After our reading of “Raymond’s Run”, I wanted to find a way to engage students in thinking about character that would also get them up and moving since they had been sitting and doing some quiet thinking/reading work for a few days.  I decided to craft a new playlist station activity with a focus on character, and I crafted stations that included:

  1.  Station 1:  Notice and Note Signpost “Contrasts and Contradictions”
  2.  Station 2:  Choose your best HOTS questions from your reading reflections without repeating one that has already been posted on the dry erase board.
  3. Station 3:  Character Focus STEAL–Speech
  4. Station 4: Character Focus STEAL–Thoughts
  5. Station 5: Character Focus STEAL-Effect on Others
  6. Station 6: Character Focus STEAL-Actions
  7. Station 7: Character Focus STEAL-Looks/Physical Appearance
  8. Station 8: Character Continuum Activity
  9. Station 9:  Silent Table Talk (looking at Squeaky through a feminist lens)

I used this blank station template to design my station signs; I also purchased and used these marvelous STEAL thinking prompts to go with stations 3-7.    You can access my playlist handout for students by clicking here.

I gave students a starting point for their stations, and then they could move on as they saw fit and choose their next station.  I let them work at their own pace, and we completed the activity in two days.   Students could work alone or with a partner; best of all, I could quickly see if students were struggling with their understanding of a concept because of the “checkpoints” built into each station with the playlist concept.

On Day 3, I used a variety of methods to bring it all together, including small group or partner talk to highlight what they felt were the most interesting insightful responses from each station across classes.  We also followed up our discussion with a Kahoot story review before taking an open note, open story quiz in Canvas.

Students who finished early on Day 2 could work on Membean or read their library book.  Though I have other fun and meaningful learning activities I’ve used in the past for generating thinking and discussion about characterization, this activity I designed seemed to be a good fit for where we were last week.

Getting Ready for a Short Story with Pre-Reading Learning Stations

As you know, I love trying new learning activities and strategies.  I’m teaching a formal short story unit this year for the first time in years, and I wanted to do something fun and meaningful to kick off our first whole class story study.  This summer I purchased this bundle of awesome activities from “Write on with Ms. G” on Teachers Pay Teachers, and decided to modify the template for the “Pre Reading Learning Stations for ANY Novel: Engage students before reading!” for our first mentor text, “Raymond’s Run.”

The original plan calls for the stations to be completed as timed rotations, and I think high school students, especially those in an accelerated section of Language Arts, could  complete the stations in a 60 time period; if you are on a block schedule with a longer class session of 70-90 minutes, you could definitely complete the pre-reading stations in one class session.  I tried this method with my 1st period class and even provided a structured work session at each station giving them 3-4 minutes for quiet thinking/jot your notes time and 3/4 minutes of conversation time.  However, I could see my 8th graders needed more time to process the the task presented at each station, so I made some modifications:

  1. Modification 1:  Modify station notes to be more structured for 8th graders.  I took the thinking prompts from the station task card and added language to their note-taking tickets to help them think and write down their ideas for each question prompt.

2. Modification 2:  Break station work into two class periods.  For the remaining three classes, students began at their assigned table area and then visited the  remaining five stations in any order.  Day 1 was devoted to them doing their quiet silent thinking and notetaking.

As it turned out, we actually needed 1.5 to 2 days of class time to do the quiet thinking and notetaking work.  Students who finished early could work on Membean, an awesome vocabulary resource provided by our district, or they could read their library books.  When students finished all six stations on Day 2, they had the chance to take a sticky note and indicate their top three stations they felt represented their strongest work and that they would feel comfortable discussing in a small group and sharing out with the whole class.  I used this information to form Table Talk groups for each station on the following day.

We used the first half of class on Day 3 to do our Table Talks; group assignments by table/station were posted on a Google Slide as students arrived.  Depending on the class, I used either a “3-2-1” reflection structure or each person was asked to share his/her responses and then choose their “best thinking” they wanted to share aloud to the entire class.  While these reflection structures sound simple, they are big steps forward early in the year for 8th graders, especially for those not used to interacting in small groups or speaking in front of their peers even from a seated table area.  I did appoint “table captains” to kick off discussions in the small group share as well as the whole group share to help facilitate table talk in a timely way.  I am happy to report all classes did a terrific job with their discussion and sharing tasks!

The pre-reading stations included:

  • Station 1:  Anticipation Guide Statements and Discussion
  • Station 2:  Inferring Character Traits Based on Two Passages from the Story
  • Station 3:  Inferring Setting
  • Station 4:  Excerpt Analysis
  • Station 5:  Making Predictions Based on the Story Title and a Photo
  • Station 6:  Identifying Similes and Their Importance to the Story

 

Though the stations took more time than I planned (the story of my life!), I think pre-reading stations are a worthwhile investment at the beginning of a unit, for an extended study of a text, or with a challenging text.  What kinds of pre-reading activities do you like to do with students to get them ready for a short story or novel?

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.

A Playful and Powerful Twist on Stations: Playlists

Today was our first day of preplanning, and we engaged in three breakout meetings to tackle beginning of the year topics.  Our administration divided faculty and staff into three groups, and we completed three rotations of 45 minute session.  The first session I attended was led by Assistant Principal Libbie Armstrong ; she introduced a teaching and learning strategy, playlists, as a medium for us to cover and address the following topics on procedural expectations:

  • Lockers
  • Cell Phones
  • Backpacks
  • Agendas
  • Hallways/Bathrooms
  • Grading
  • PLCs
  • Teacher Handbook

What are playlists?  Caitlin Tucker says:

The playlist concept stems from the Individual Rotation Model in which each student works from an individual playlist of activities. I’ve used playlists for formal writing, grammar, and projects. The goal of the playlist model is to allow students some control over the pace and path of their learning.

Playlists may include both face to face as well as digital learning activities and opportunities to respond.

We began by reading over the instructions and then picking a “learning path” as an entry point.  Even though they were numbered, we could actually do them in any order as long as worked through them and then did the appropriate checkpoint with Ms. Armstrong.  Our tasks were both individual and collaborative, and every teacher was highly engaged.  We recorded responses on chart paper, at table group areas, and on our individual response sheets.

After Tweeting about the activity this morning, fellow educator Brittany Griffin shared this guide she created on playlists!  Additional resources to browse:

We all left the session extremely jazzed about this approach and were sharing ideas about different ways we could use this strategy in our different subject areas.  I’m so excited to design my own for my 8th graders later this month.  Have you used playlists?  If so, what tips and best practices can you share?

Hat tip to my AP Libbie Armstrong for teaching this awesome strategy plus helping us tackle a wide range of important topics in a fun and engaging way!

“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.