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:
#MVFreedom Ss visit country ambassadors & serve as @unhrcpr members investigating violations of the UDHR #mvmiddle pic.twitter.com/rtAbBIm2NE
— Alex Bragg (@mrsacbragg) September 2, 2015
Round 2-#MVFreedom Ss serving as @unhrcpr members 2determine if countries should be sanctioned 4violations #mvmiddle pic.twitter.com/7RGeVuvUct
— Alex Bragg (@mrsacbragg) September 2, 2015