Student-Driven Learning Stations

There is no doubt that instructional design is at the forefront of research and discussion concerning student achievement. Much of the research I studied in my graduate program at Columbia University continuously pointed to the quality of the teacher as being the single most important factor affecting student achievement.  The quality of the teacher is a specific focus point, yet it can encompass many supporting elements from teacher preparation to coaching and observation cycles for growth.  It also includes instructional strategies in the classroom.  For this post, I would like to focus on the latter.

As technology continues to enhance the classroom experience, and the focus on student autonomy and curiosity-driven learning exists, students are increasingly becoming the drivers of their learning.  This requires a unique set of instructional strategies that nurture this behavior in students, while also targeting various learning styles and needs.  One of my favorite strategies is the use of student-driven learning stations within the classroom. This is similar to teacher organized stations around the room in which students visit each station to investigate a certain topic.  The difference, however, is that students design and maintain their station throughout the class activity.  My role, as the teacher, is to check-in with each team and maintain open dialogue about their learning and creation of the station.  These formative assessments are crucial to ensuring the success of each learning station as it demonstrates accurate learning tied to the appropriate outcomes.

Below is an example of how I used this in my class recently, and I hope it will spark new ideas for you and your class! :

First, I had students explore The Freedom House organization that ranks countries 1-7 according to political and civil liberties.  This was to gain perspective about the scale and how it works.  It also is an interactive map, so it’s a great way for them to brush up on their geography while they explore various countries.  We used this google document to capture our explorations in small groups.  Following this lesson, students were given access to this document in which they were allowed to pick the country they wanted to prosecute.  They were told that they needed to create an interactive station for their fellow council members to attend (the class), and they would be convincing their fellow council members that the country they investigated is guilty of freedom violations according to The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  I did not give many directions, because I like to leave it open for student creativity and imagination.  Group members were required to take on roles (leader, timekeeper, station designer, and scribe) in order to ensure effective collaboration.  I conducted several feedback loops with each group to get them ready for the “Human Rights Council (HRC) Visit” day.  Part of this process is ensuring that student choice is met, but that you are also checking in to ensure appropriate demonstrations of learning exist.

On the “HRC Visit” day, half of the group stayed at the station while the other half of the group traveled to other stations and acted as HRC council members ready to pass judgment.  They used this document to record their opinions and findings.  After these students had visited all stations, we switched, and those that traveled stayed behind at the station while the others now traveled.  It was a powerful learning experience for all, and I definitely recommend it.

When this was all said and done, students had embodied two roles in one block setting:

1) a persuasive prosecutor trying to convince a council member that a country was guilty of freedom violations
2) a sitting council member ready to hand out a verdict.

To follow up with an individual assessment, students wrote a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations convincing him to sanction or investigate a country’s freedom violations further.  Through this letter, I was able to assess their learning throughout the stations, and students enhanced their persuasive writing skills.

Student-driven learning stations offer choice, and they make learning visible.  I hope you will try it!

Here are some pictures of it in action:

An Experiment With Mindfulness

Recently, I graduated with my Ed.M in Education Leadership from Columbia University.  When researching various leadership programs, one aspect (among many) that drew me to Columbia’s program was the intentional infusion of emotional intelligence and self-awareness (also known as mindfulness) training into the 14 month program. There is a large amount of research and publicity circulating the corporate world and the education spheres about the impact of mindfulness and emotional intelligence in cultivating highly effective leaders and creative thinkers. I was excited to discover that students in the program participate in 30-40 minutes of self-awareness training every day beginning at 8:00 a.m., and in the first summer block of classes, students take an Emotional Intelligence course taught by Dr. Robin Stern and Dr. Marc Brackett from The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

Although I was excited this was a part of the program, and I was eager to learn, I was somewhat skeptical about practicing it daily.  It seemed a bit cheesy to me, if we’re being honest.  Learning about it all day is one thing.  Actually doing it requires a new level of trust.   I decided to commit to being open minded about the practices, and embrace the ambiguity in order to fully allow myself the opportunity to learn something new.  After all, isn’t this what we ask our students to do?

That new learning has manifested itself into a newfound passion for self awareness and emotional intelligence in schools.  I am now more aware of my current emotions and thoughts than ever before, and this awareness has had a profound impact on my management of stressful situations and times of frustration.  Our faculty and staff need this, and more importantly, our students need it as they navigate life’s changes and continuous pressures.   This year, I’ve decided to implement mindfulness training (happening now) and emotional intelligence check-ins (these will begin in January) in my classroom.   To begin, I’ve started with small breathing routines.  These take less than five minutes, and we do them at different times in a class period. They have become so popular that students are now asking “are we going to breathe today?” when they walk in for class.  They also are telling me they are doing the routines at home when they feel anxious.  I’m thrilled to hear this, and I believe that these simple actions can have a meaningful impact on our students and colleagues.  If you would like more information about the specific routines we are doing in my classroom, please contact me and I’ll be happy to share.  It would be best to do this over the phone or in a SKYPE session as they are difficult to describe in writing.  It’s better if you can watch me do it-or better yet, I can SKYPE you in for a session with my class!

Want to see an example of this in practice?  Click Here! to learn about a school in Harlem putting mindfulness and social emotional intelligence to use!