These 5 Teachers Showcase the Future of Blended Learning’s ‘Station...

Blended Learning

These 5 Teachers Showcase the Future of Blended Learning’s ‘Station Rotation’ Model

By Julia Freeland Fisher and Clifford Maxwell     Jul 13, 2017

These 5 Teachers Showcase the Future of Blended Learning’s ‘Station Rotation’ Model

Milton Bryant is the first to admit that implementing blended learning successfully didn’t come overnight. For the past four years, Bryant has been tirelessly adapting his approach to personalized learning to ensure that each student is thriving, even when that means scrapping ideas that don’t quite pan out. As Bryant shared with us, “I am okay with making mistakes, and I tell the kids it’s okay for them, too.”

His efforts are paying off. Bryant, who teaches fourth and fifth grade Math at Ketcham Elementary Schoolin Washington, D.C., recently won The Fishman Prize, a national award given by The New Teacher Project that recognizes excellent teachers.

Bryant is one of many teachers across the country who are continuously refining, adapting, and modifying instructional approaches to better meet their students’ needs. In a new case study, “Blended (r)evolution,” we take a close look at how five educators, including Bryant, have adapted their original approach to blended learning to find ever better ways to differentiate instruction, promote student agency, and create a more flexible learning environment.

The report builds upon over five years of research that the Christensen Institute has conducted on the rise of different blended learning models in K-12 schools. Typically, as schools and classrooms integrate online learning into instruction, the choreography of online and offline learning coalesces into a particular architecture. In 2012, we codified 7 models of blended learning that were cropping up in schools. Among the most popular is the Station Rotation model, which builds on the decades-long tradition of rotating students among “learning centers”—self-contained sections of a classroom where students could engage in various independent learning activities.

Increasingly we’ve begun to observe how schools treat these discrete models, particularly the Station Rotation, as a starting point, rather than the finish line. As the teachers we interviewed and observed illustrate, to fit their students needs educators often want elbow room from the strict schedule and flow of a rotation model.

These ground-level efforts to iterate on models shed an important light on the growing personalized learning space, which often gets muddled amid contrasting definitions, approaches, or philosophies. Sometimes all it takes to cut through the noise is to follow teachers into the classroom and see the day-to-day innovations occurring in schools.

For Bryant, that day-to-day has meant striking a balance between the benefits and drawbacks of structure and flexibility. At the start of the 2013-2014 school year, Bryant implemented a highly structured Station Rotation in his first foray into blended learning. Students rotated between a small-group station, an online station, and an independent practice station staffed with a paraprofessional every single day.

Source: Christensen Institute

But soon after, Bryant joined the Education Innovation Fellowship, through D.C.’s CityBridge Foundation, and had the opportunity to visit innovative schools around the country. These visits opened his eyes to new models, in particular the Flex model of blended learning in place at Summit Public Schools in California. “Seeing different approaches changed the way I viewed blended learning, and what I could accomplish in the classroom”.

Inspired by what he’d seen, Bryant quickly pivoted to a Flex model, in which all of his students would work at their own pace through online lessons that he created, and he was free to work with individuals as needed. But although some students were happy to work more independently, many struggled with newfound autonomy. “If the environment is too flexible, it is hard to manage their behavior—and not only that, but their work ethic—to help my students,” Bryant said.

Seeing some students struggle to adapt, Bryant decided to iterate on his model yet again. He pivoted back to Station Rotation, but started to incorporate flexibility within the stations. This meant that students could select their online content, and if Bryant noticed students had mastered concepts in his small-group station, he would move them along to another station despite the time on the clock.

Source: Christensen Institute

After a year of perfecting this hybrid approach, Bryant reintegrated a Flex model into his schedule two days per week, while retaining his more flexible Station Rotation for the remaining three. This balance has given students time to work at their own pace and demonstrate mastery in their own way, while at the same time giving Bryant an opportunity to model behavior, let students work together, andmonitor individual progress.

As with any innovative practice, personalizing learning is a process, not a one-time event. Though Bryant and the other teachers we profiled all shared the same contours of a Station Rotation just a few short years ago, today their many differences reflect each teacher's willingness to innovate and adapt to the unique needs of their students. In some cases, the changes were minor, such as modifying seating arrangements during rotations. In others, a classroom may look and feel entirely different. But across the board, shifts away from rote stations illustrate that various models are not just functioning as cookie-cutter approaches that educators must ruthlessly adhere to, but as foundations on top of which individual teachers can innovate to fit their needs.

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