At Twitter Math Camp last summer, I attended Michelle’s morning session on differentiation. In the session she talked about how the teachers she works with have “slowed down to speed up”. In a nutshell, leading up to a unit students take a pre-assessment on skills they should already know that are necessary to know for the new content they will be learning. The students then work through various stations on the skills they showed they have not yet mastered from the pre-assessment. Michelle talked about how by slowing down and getting students to master those skills necessary for the new content, the teaching of the new material was much better and more efficient.
Up to that point, here’s what pre-assessment looked like in my classroom.
- Pre-assess at the start of the year everything I will be teaching so that I can give the same test at the end of the year to show growth.
- This was pure torture for everyone involved. I was frustrated wasting time with this because I already knew students didn’t know the material. They hadn’t been taught it yet. I hated watching students suffer through this test. There’s nothing like raising anxiety at the start of the year with something like this! Plus, I didn’t want to grade them.
- Pre-assess the day before I teach something to see where students are at with a concept.
- Really, what was I thinking with this?? The day before? How did I think that would give me time to do anything with the data let alone create lessons in response to what I learned from it?
In Michelle’s sessions, she helped me see that while I wasn’t using pre-assessment effectively, many of my thoughts on pre-assessment were on track. She helped me see how to better use pre-assessment with students. Here are some of my notes from last summer.
- Don’t test what you WILL be teaching them. Test what they SHOULD know from last year.
- Pre-test far enough in advance so you can do something with the results.
- One skill per question. That way you know where their mistakes are.
- Short: one page double sided with lots of white space
- What do they actually NEED to know for the end goal? What do we need them to know in order to UNDERSTAND the new lesson?
- As little language as possible: Is the barrier the language or the math?
This wasn’t the first time I had heard about the idea of stations and students working where they needed to work. The idea absolutely intrigued me; however, I wasn’t quite sure how I could see it working for me. I’m pretty type-A and the thought of giving 6th graders that much freedom scared me. A lot.
BUT fast forward partway through the school year when I start getting into fractions with my 6th graders. Every year this is a struggle. They should know so much coming in from 5th grade, but they don’t. In the past I have spent WAY too much time re-teaching stuff they should already know.
One of my 6th grade classes is ahead of the other two, so I decided to use them as my guinea pigs with something like this. And it. was. awesome. I loved it. They loved it. It’s been a while since I’ve done something this big in my classroom that I’ve been this excited about.
I was definitely glad I sort of piloted this idea with that one class to start because it helped me work out a few things before doing it with all my classes. That first hour class recently finished their second round of stations, and my other two classes have just started the second round. (I loved the first round so much that I created a 2nd set of stations for the new material they were learning.)
Here’s how this process has worked for me so far:
- When I first created a set of stations, I gave the pre-test well in advance. That way if there was a certain skill only a couple students missed, I didn’t spend time creating a station for that one, instead I pulled those students aside and worked with them on the skill rather spending a bunch of time creating a station for a couple students.
- Once I had most of the front end work done of creating the stations, I didn’t give the pre-test as far in advance with my other 2 classes. I just needed enough time to be able to grade the pre-tests and get the student progress sheets made.
- From the pre-tests, I made a spreadsheet for each class so I could mark of which skills students have mastered. Students also receive a half-sheet with the skills. They get a sticker when they have mastered it.
Stations: This is by far the most time consuming piece of this entire thing.
- I grouped the skills from the pre-assessment into stations. Typically, one skill per station; however, there are a few that I grouped together. For each skill, I found one or two relatively short videos explaining the concepts. In the future, I think I would like to create these videos myself, but right now I didn’t have the time to do that on top of everything else. Then I found a variety of ways students could practice that skill.
- Michelle uses trifold boards for her stations. For my first go-round with this, I just had the stuff piled on my shelf and pulled them out every day. What was I thinking?! I quickly realized I needed another way to organize this. I decided to use 12×12 storage bins, which have worked well for me. These are what I’m currently using. I love that I’m able to put everything for one station (task cards, dice, folders, etc.) in one bin.
- For the worksheets, I printed off smaller versions and taped them to the front of the folder so that students (and I) know what’s in the folder.
- Each bin is labeled with a number, and I have numbers hanging on the wall in my room so students know where each station is. These number also correspond to the numbers on their sticker sheets.
- I tried to include a variety of ways for students to practice the skills: games, Desmos activities, Quizlet, QR Cards, tarsia puzzles, IXL, create your own problems, worksheets, etc. I know everything I’m currently using isn’t awesome, but again, I did the best I could with the time I had without completely killing myself getting this set up.
- Once students have mastered all the skills, they get to work at the enrichment station. At this station students can choose to create a stop motion video, work on quarter the cross, open middle problems, and other logic puzzle type activities. I’m still working in expanding what students can work on at this station.
Implementation: Once everything is set up, this is the fun part! The first time I did this I was so nervous about how this would go. I worried I spent all those hours at school preparing it only to have it completely flop after day one, but it didn’t!
- Having the numbers on the walls match the numbers on the bins as well as their half sheets really helped with this. I didn’t do this at first, but it has helped streamline the process. The stations are in the same place every day, and I don’t have to remember where that is. Students know where each bin goes at the start of class and can set them up themselves.
- The first day or so I spend time walking around the room answering student questions mostly on how an activity at a station works and monitoring students trying to keep them on task. After a couple days I started pull a group of students to work with me. Some days I would choose which students were going to work with me based on their progress or behavior the previous day, and other times I would announce which skill I was going to work on and let students choose whether or not they wanted to work with me.
- The picture below has saved me so much time through all of this. The first time, I tried to put whiteboard sleeves at each station, and it was a pain. Having one central location for whiteboard sleeves, markers, and erasers has worked much better. Also, the tray on the bottom is where students put folders so that I know I need to make more copies. It’s great! Rather than me going through each bin everyday, I can just look there and know what I need to make more copies of.
- The first time I did this with students I allowed them to take quizzes to test out of skills every day. Some days I would let them quiz in the middle of class and some days at the end. It was really just sort of random. When my other 2 classes started doing stations, I used the last 10 minutes or so of class for this and every student would return to their seats for this. My first class to try stations told me they wanted more opportunities to take quizzes; however, as I thought about this after doing the first set of stations with my other classes, this seemed to be too often. The second round, I’m going to try quizzing ever other day to see how that goes. I’m still working to figure out a good system for having students quiz out of skills.
- I created several different versions of each quiz, and starting with the second round I also added the corresponding station number to the top of each quiz along with the skill.
This has truly been one of my favorite things I’ve done in my classroom all year. It’s so awesome to look around my room and see 10+ groups of students working on different things and know that everyone is working on what they need. It was definitely a stretch for my type-A personality. My classroom is typically very structured, but I think that’s part of the reason why this worked as well as it did. By this point of the year, students know my expectations so they were able to handle the freedom that I gave them.
Did all of my students master everything? No. But I believe more did than would have had I done this in large group instruction. Were some of the students who mastered all the skills quickly bored at the enrichment station? Probably. But these are the same students who would have been bored sitting in large group instruction. I had more students engaged during this than ever before. One of my students who is a challenge to get to participate and engage in anything was engaged every single day during the stations. Every day!