Kim Sharp: Technology Learning Stations: Reaching Every Student
The following article is provided by Kim Sharp, a member of the Digital Learning Day Educator Working Group. Sharp is also an English teacher at Klein Forest High School located in Houston, Texas. Visit the Klein Forest High School website for more information on their technology curriculum.
Are you overwhelmed by all the challenges facing classroom teachers today? Do you wonder if you are meeting all the needs of your diverse students? Do you long to add some creative, student-driven activities in your classroom, but don’t know where to begin? If you answered yes to any of these questions, learning stations may be the answer you’ve been looking for. I have used this technique in my classes for several years now, and have found them to be successful for many reasons.
One of the greatest advantages of this style of learning is that it encourages collaborative learning. Carefully planned groups, made up of students with various strengths, can quite possible become the best learning environment for some students. Since this setup requires the teacher to take on a facilitator role, instead of the “sage of the stage,” I make sure to create groups that can function independently. Groups of four seem to work the best, and in each group I make sure to include at least one academically strong student and one “techie,” who is really comfortable with troubleshooting technology problems (there are more of these students than you think). I have found that this has minimized the minute problems that arise. This small group instruction allows students to work together to solve problems, but also enables me to work with students on a more individualized basis without feeling overwhelmed. Since most of the questions are being responded to by their peers, it allows me to address more in depth concerns.
Another reason the learning stations work so well is because of the movement. Let’s face it, kids these days don’t have a very long attention span. They are used to processing information in rapid session. Instead of trying to fight this cultural phenomenon, I work with it. I set up each station into “chunks” of learning. This way, they can focus on the task at hand for a maximum of 30 minutes, then move on to a different task. This also works well for my kinesthetic learners because different stations might require them to stand, get into discussion circles, or have hands-on practice with various forms on technology. Since learning stations do require a lot of movement, it is best to set your room up in a way that is conducive to movement, not just for the students, but for you as well. I usually set my groups up against the walls, leaving the center of the room for me to float around and observe.
The last reason that these stations have worked so well for me is because I have incorporated technology into the stations. One station might have the students up at a smart board, while another has them doing research through the internet. Of course, this portion will depend on the type of technology you have access to, but even including some form of technology in just one of the stations will reach more students. They understand the way of the future better that we can, for they have never experienced a world without technology. Most of us remember what it is like not to have a cell phone, computer, email, or even the internet. These children don’t. Therefore, I have found that if I try to teach to their generation, with technology, terminology, and references that are part of their every day life, it make it more “real” for them.
Learning stations could possibly change the way you teach, and the way your students learn. But, just like anything else, a set of ground rules should be set before you begin. First and foremost, I establish my expectations for my classroom. Students need to have a clear understanding of what is expected of them in general, which is why I usually don’t institute learning stations until after the first few weeks of school. Once you decide to start using the stations, set reasonable expectations for yourself and your students. The first couple of times you use this technique will be the hardest. You need some time to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. It takes a commitment to make this work seamlessly, but the effort you put into it at the beginning, will pay off the rest of the year in quality, student-drive, technology based education.
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