Why use stations for reading? When we started planning this unit, we had so many texts that we wanted to use and so many activities that we wanted to do with each reading; it was overwhelming. Also, as seventh grade teachers, we confront a few problems pretty consistently when we teach whole-class mini-lessons: 1) the same few students are engaged, and even when using calling sticks, turn-and-talk, or other engagement strategies, all students are not participating to the fullest extent; 2) texts need to be substantially differentiated for different levels of readers, which is difficult to do when the class is reading together, and 3) many of our students rely on us, their teachers, to tell them that their work is acceptable or correct before moving on to the next step. A stations format for classwork, especially when stations can be tailored for the different groups, addresses each of these dilemmas and pushes our seventh graders toward independence and confidence in their academic work.
When structuring station work, especially at the beginning of the year, we scaffold the “how” of stations by going over expectations and directions each day, projecting a timer, delegating student jobs, and, at the end, doing both a small group and a whole class reflection about how well station work went on a particular day. For each set of stations, students receive a packet (which may be differentiated depending on whether students are grouped homogeneously or heterogeneously) with the same four expectations. Right underneath the stations expectations, there is a stations report card. At the end of stations work, students grade themselves on that report card. If the stations go for two days, the second day they grade with a different color. We have found that reviewing the expectations each day supports student success, and, at the end of station work, a teacher circulates as students are reflecting to give warm feedback as well as one thing that a group can work on to improve their “group work grade” for the following day.
On the second page of the stations packet are the stations expectations (only four to keep it simple) and station jobs. Students assign jobs within their groups, and the expectation is that the following day, each student has a different job. This allows students to share responsibility, compelling kids to push themselves out of their comfort zones and/or allowing students who would usually be leaders in a group to step back and support the leadership of other students.
**Note: When reviewing station expectations, number 2–plan your time–is the one that we teach into the most. This step forces students to read all the directions, break down the task, and estimate how much time each step will take. Before we added that step, we noticed that students were using their time to do the task, but that they were not moving as quickly through the work as they could have been. This step puts momentum into their group work and, since adding and teaching it, we have observed many more completed station packets.
This set of six stations (with 3-5 kids at each station totalling 5 groups–no one starts at station 2) included the following texts and activities:
- “Exile” Reading Station: At this station, students read Julia Alvarez’s “Exile” for comprehension. They did a gist-related stop n jot at designated stopping points (that we had penned in ahead of time) and answered some After Reading Questions.
- “Exile” Theme Station: This station had a teacher present to read the text aloud and review the comprehension questions from Station 1 to ensure that understood what they had read as a group at the first station. Then, students were guided through the scaffolded theme-finding process that we had taught whole-class the previous week. This gave us as teachers a better gauge of where students were in their ability to independently find theme and comprehend the text independently.
- “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)” Symbolism Station: Here, students watched the music video from The Hamilton Mixtape’s “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)” by artists Keinan Abdi Warsame, Claudia Alexandra Feliciano, Rizwan Ahmed, Rene Perez Joglar, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Jeffrey Penalva, using printed lyrics to follow along. They then answered four questions related to symbols that they saw in the music video and a fifth question about the video’s overall message.
- March Evidence Sort Station: At this station, students read an excerpt of John Lewis’s graphic novel March I. After reading the excerpt, they examined 8 pieces of preselected evidence to determine whether it was relevant to the claim “It is important to break the rules to fight for equality.” Students sorted the evidence into relevant and irrelevant categories, and then noted their choices in the station packet. Then, they put a star by the strongest piece of evidence in the relevant pile before putting their materials away and moving on to station 5.
- “Gate A-4” Theme Station: Here, students read aloud the short story by Naomi Shihab Nye, answered a few comprehension questions, and then as a group generated three themes of the text. Independently, each student chose what he/she thought was the best theme and wrote a short paragraph explaining why.
- Theme Computer Station: Each of our schools uses computer programs for ELA mini-lessons with the intention that these lessons and the practice that follows can be individually differentiated based on a pre-assessment given by the program, which is then followed up by benchmarks each quarter. These computer programs (MobyMax, Study Island, etc) each have a section on theme, which students completed at this station.
**Note: With the exception of station 6, each station ended with the question “What border(s) did ____________ cross in this text? What challenges did _________ face when crossing? Use evidence from the text to justify your answer.” This uniting question allowed us to review the station work together as a whole class, anchoring our discussion in the core questions of the overall unit.
These stations took two days to complete (21 min/station with 2 min of transition time and a do now at the beginning of the class time). At the end of the first day, each group completed the report card and then we gave written feedback with a plus and a delta (one improvement that they could make) that students reviewed before starting stations the second day. Students also got a grade for their group work each day and an overall grade for their written work (in the packet) after the whole activity was completed.
Because station work is so independent, it is important that teachers “see” students as they are working and deeply look at particular parts of the station packet to monitor the content and skills that students are working on. We chose to focus on the question about border crossing at each station to make sure that students were connecting their work to the greater work of the unit. We also discussed the themes of “Exile” and “Gate A-4,” as well as some of the symbol questions in the music video. These discussions not only validated the students who had completed all the work at stations and had done deep thinking about the text (those scholars got many participation points during the discussion!), but also allowed the kids who had been in different groups to bring their small group discussions to the whole class so that their ideas could be heard, expanded upon, and refined in a bigger group. We created an anchor chart of themes from these different stories that we referenced when beginning our memoir writing unit the following week.
**This post was co-written by Kat Atkins-Pattenson and Alice Laramore