by Chris Skierski
Suppose for a moment that you were teaching someone to ride a bicycle. After a week of teaching and practice, you gave that child a test and discovered that she could not stop well, had trouble balancing, and every time she turned to the left she fell down.
What would you do?
Would you try to reteach her these skills so that she could become proficient? Or would you progress her to the next skill by handing her a unicycle?
THE PROBLEM in DIFFERENTIATION
Unfortunately, this is the dilemma many teachers feel forced into when teaching a room full of students who are all unique learners requiring different amounts of practice and repetition.
- Does the teacher progress the class to the next section, leaving the lower leveled students behind?
- Or retain the class, to the detriment of the higher achieving students?
Moving ahead will cause those students who are struggling to remain lost and left behind. Eventually they will give up; or masquerade their deficiencies by acting out.
Retaining the class, by re-teaching the material, will prevent the more advanced students from progressing to more challenging skills, thus robbing them of the opportunity to reach their fullest potential. They will thus become bored – which will also lead to other classroom management issues.
There is, however, a solution. One that reaches all students at their level, and allows them as much practice, repetition, and retention as they need, so that they too can master each classroom skill and math standard.
The answer is differentiation by learning stations.
A MATH LEARNING STATION
A learning station is comprised of two essential elements.
- Practice with Instant Feedback
First, there’s a reteach portion that instructs the student how to perform the skill. Second, meaningful practice with instant feedback, so the student knows that s/he is doing the work correctly.
To optimize feedback, try to use technology (such as NearPod, EdPuzzle, or Quizziz), but if this is not accessible, get creative (like providing answer sheets).
The station must have several tasks within it, such as:
- a video to watch,
- a section of the textbook to read and take notes on,
- a practice worksheet, or
- a online practice, etc.
The station should last 2-3 days, and conclude with an assessment to measure if the student has demonstrated mastery. Here’s a sample student record for an integer station.
Adding Integers Station
1. Watch video 1 - Create notes as you watch
2. Page 43 #1-9, 11-24
3. IXL.com "I.6 Add Integers" (earn 70pts)
4. Worksheet "Add Integers 1"
HOW A MATH STATION WORKS
The learning station does not replace quality instruction. However, it is used for the in-class independent work time.
Here are a few steps to include in a station:
- Progress or Re-learn
This is a simple 5-step process that all math stations can follow. #mathchat #learningClick To Tweet
First, diagnose your students to know what skill(s) they are lacking. Based on this data, students are placed into the appropriate learning station for remediation.
Inside the station, they get tutorial aids and meaningful practice.
When the time for the station has concluded (typically 2-3 days), each student is assessed on the skill that they have been working on. If they pass, they are promoted to the next station. If they do not pass, they remain within that station, with another opportunity to succeed.
By focusing on mastery, we celebrate the student’s success, but do not penalize his/her failure (failure is part of the learning process). This also allows stronger students to move ahead of the group, while struggling students get the opportunity to work on the skill as long as they need to obtain mastery.
Differentiation is the natural result of focusing on mastery. #mathchat #learningClick To Tweet
ONE LAST THOUGHT ON STATION DIFFERENTIATION
I encourage you to do two things that will not only make this process advantageous to all your students, but also enjoyable.
- Chart your students’ progress
- Celebrate their success
Put a board on the wall with the skills outlined, and have the students move their name tags (or avatar) up the wall when they master a skill. Not only will your students take pride in their work, your administration will love seeing your data.
After the test, read the names of everyone who passed the assessment out loud to the class. Play music. Clap. Cheer. Dance. Your students will love it.
Chris Skierski owns RethinkMathteacher.com, a site dedicated to assisting math teachers and improving teaching strategies and instructional design, especially through differentiation. You can follow on Facebook @RethinkMathTeacher or visit www.RethinkMathTeacher.com to subscribe.