Using Learning Stations to Kick Off the Year
In the past, the first day of school for me usually went something like this: I handed out the syllabus, gave a brief introduction to myself and our class, gave an overview of the year, and then gave a brief ice breaker to conclude the class. This format, while it provided some information to students, failed to convey an accurate picture of what our class would look like, sound like, or feel like. In a classroom that values collaboration, community, and student voice, it began to feel out of place for me to begin the school year as a talking head in front of the entire group of students.
To address this, I plan to implement learning stations on the first day of school to break up the routine, encourage movement, and increase engagement for both students and teachers.
Depending on the size of your class and the amount of time you have with students, you may want to adjust the number of stations you have and the number of time students spends at each station. Station activities can last more than one day if you have a large number of different ideas for your stations and only have a limited amount of time. This is because stations provide a great deal of flexibility and the ability to adjust based on the amount of time available and the needs of your students. When students are at these stations, you can circulate the room and check-in with them, making sure they understand the tasks and getting to know them a little better.
FOUR STATIONS TO CONSIDER
Here are the stations that will be used in my classroom, which you can see below.
Students will be able to pick up a copy of the syllabus, as well as an outline of the units of study for the year, at the syllabus distribution station. I’ll assign this to my students and ask them to read it aloud with their peers in their group. Following the reading, they can take a sticky note and write down any reactions or questions they have, which they can then stick on a poster board to remind them later. We’ll get back to you with any questions or concerns the following day.
Station for introduction: This station is responsible for two tasks. Using Flipgrid, students can record themselves saying their preferred name as part of the first assignment (first name, nickname, etc.). I’ll use the videos to quickly memorize all of the students’ names as well as their proper pronunciation. This can be accomplished using any video recording website or software that your school employs.
This station will also have a short questionnaire that will ask students about their interests and include space for them to write their names and gender pronouns (she/her, he/him, or they/them) as well as questions about their backgrounds. You can decide what other questions are important for you to know, such as what they are passionate about, what their strengths are in the subject matter of your course or any concerns they have about your course.
This station will be set up to provide students with paper and markers so that they can create a name tent that will be displayed on their desks for the first few weeks, allowing them to become familiar with their classmates’ names. I’ll ask students to write their preferred name, as well as three to five symbols, words, or drawings that best represent them, on a piece of paper. After they have finished, they can show their group mates their name tent and the symbols that they have created.
At the community agreement station, students will collaborate with their group members to develop at least seven class community agreement statements, which will be displayed in the classroom. “How do we create a learning environment that is both safe and empowering?” I’ll inquire. My students will come up with behavioral expectations that they expect their peers and me to follow for them to feel safe, respected, and empowered in our classroom environment. For the time being, I’ll ask them to be as specific as possible.
If you try this, you might be able to provide a few examples to help them grasp the concept: “One voice, one mic,” “be kind and respectful to everyone,” and “be a good listener” are all phrases that have been heard.
We’ll talk about what they wrote at the end of class or the next day, and I’ll make a master list of their agreements on poster paper that we’ll display in the classroom. This piece of paper will be signed by all students, and it will be displayed in the classroom throughout the year.
CUSTOMIZING LEARNING STATIONS
These are just a few station options; you can personalize it in any way that makes sense for your classroom and the age group of students who will be participating. Consider setting up an area where you can sit down and meet students. You might also consider setting up a station where students can sign up for any technology or programs that you use throughout the year. You might also consider setting up an ice breaker game for students to play.