Empowered Learner

Rotations to Support Empowered Learners


Shifts to remote learning due to the pandemic has challenged educators to rethink and adapt pedagogy to fit the new environment of their classroom. Many experienced the urgency to prepare students to be successful in a constantly evolving technological landscape. As my district approaches 1 full-year of remote learning, preparations have begun to support the transition to back to in-person learning. Simultaneously, remote learning continues and we have to prepare for flexible learning environments customized to the needs of our students.

I have the opportunity to speak with both teachers and students of all different grade levels about these questions. It is really easy to focus on the negatives of remote instruction, so I often try to ask questions about what is working well. Small group instruction models and flexible learning options have been common conversations, and although whole group instruction has its purpose, teachers have been finding success in engaging students much more in smaller instructional settings especially when there is an element of choice. These interactions inspired my research question to address the ISTE standard for this module:

ISTE Student Standard 1 – Empower Learner

Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving, and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences. 

My Questions:

How can station rotation and other rotation models create custom learning environments that facilitate student networks of support? How can this design model be adapted to fit the needs of remote and in-person learning?


What is the station rotation model?

At first glance, station rotation doesn’t seem like a revolutionary pedagogy, but traditional rotations can fall into traps of teacher-led/paced instruction, focused on compliance, and lacks collaboration. This effectively forbids students of their choice and generates one-size-fits-all instruction. A station rotation model, however, can be described as a model that utilizes concepts of blended learning to create dynamic station activities that allow for more differentiation, individualization, and networks of collaboration. Blended learning implies that at least one station uses some form of online learning. To address the ISTE Empowered Learners standard, we should also consider flexibility in time, place, path, and pace.  

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Catlin Tucker, a digital educator and advocate of blended learning, highlights that the benefits of a station rotation model are that it creates smaller learning communities within the larger class, implements varied tasks, and provides teachers with space to work individually or in small groups to meet each student’s learning goals (Tucker, 2017). It is imperative to use backward-design to drive the planning of station rotation. Understanding your lesson goals and assessments will help you make better decisions about time, place, path, and pace of your lesson (Douma, 2020). 

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A key design model to support Empowered Learners is to build stations for collaboration allowing students to build networks with others to support the learning process. Here students could seek feedback from one another, discuss ideas, or collaborate on an activity together. In addition, provide space in stations for students to set personal learning goals and reflect on those goals. This could take form in an entry/exit task station where all students are participating simultaneously before/after rotating stations. 

We also can empower students to choose a station that best fits their learning goals or interests. This is especially useful with practicing or reviewing concepts and you could support students’ choice of station by using an if ____ then ____ board. Stations can be designed with different learning modalities in mind to allow for students to choose which station best suits their own needs. “Some students may benefit from beginning with small group instruction before moving onto practice. While other students, who are accelerated learners or tactile, may learn better by starting with a practice activity where they get to explore and practice before they receive direct instruction” (Tucker, 2017). Individual practice stations can also leverage online tools or adaptive software and empower students to make the choice that is right for them. The pacing of the rotation can also be chosen by the individual student and the rotation does not necessarily need to be finished within one class period or day. Planning rotations with these considerations in mind allow for students to leverage technology and to choose learning environments (stations) that best suit their learning goals (Staker and Horn, 2012). 

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4 Station Considerations for Remote Learning

  1. A station for independent learning/practice – The key here focuses on practice. Empower your students to set their own personal learning goals in this station. You can also consider utilizing an online learning platform that offers immediate data informed instruction.
  1. Teacher-led, small group station – this station is crucial to allow teachers to get to know their students and to better plan for and support their progress. Students could try out the learning with immediate feedback/support from the instructor. Or the teacher could be facilitating discussion and allow for more student-centered learning. 
  1. An offline station – provide a menu of options for students to practice SEL or engaged in non-screen activities with tactile learning. This could be using manipulatives, journaling, discussion of their learning with family, and/or reflection on their learning goals.
  1. A collaborative-learning station – provide opportunity for students to build a network of support and collaborate. It is critical to think about a deliverable piece for student groups to produce. For example, this could be students filling out student-created feedback forms or engaging in a cooperative learning activity that challenges them to submit something for feedback. This station is especially important in the remote setting because it can help support socialization during student learning to grow understanding. 

(Douma, 2020)


Planning Recommendations

  • Keep groups less than 5
  • Sketch out stations:
    • What is the objective of each station? Will students produce something?
    • How much time do students need at each station?
    • What materials are needed?
    • How will directions of each station be delivered to students? Will they be frontloaded or presented at each station (video or typed directions)?
    • Consider transition time – how will students know when/where to go? How can you support quicker transition to maximize time? (for example -use QR codes to direct students more quickly or support sign-on)

(Tucker, 2015)


Douma, K. (2020, September 28). How to Make Station Rotation Work During Hybrid Learning.  

Staker, H., & Horn, M. B. (2012, May). Classifying K-12 Blended Learning.

Tucker, C. (2015, July 20). Create Small Learning Communities with the Station Rotation Model. Dr Catlin Tucker. 

Tucker, C., Wycoff, T., & Green, J.  (2017). Blended learning in action: A practical guide toward sustainable change. Corwin.