Many teachers agree that educational technology brings many benefits to the classroom. It can augment and even transform lessons. But it brings its own set of challenges. How do you combine ed tech with personal classroom instruction? What if you have few devices? How do you help children remember their passwords? How do you regain the students’ attention?
These issues and others were addressed in an edWeb.net seminar given by Sarah M. Rich, a second grade teacher at the Paul Cuffee Charter School in Providence, RI. Rich’s expertise is in classroom management, and she uses station rotation (SR) for her second grade class.
Station rotation is a classroom management strategy discussed in the book: Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools, by Michael Horn and Heather Staker. This book is a renowned field guide of techniques for blending educational technology and traditional instruction in K-12 classrooms, and Rich recommended that all webinar attendees read it.
Rich’s students share devices on a rotating basis. For reading, she set up five classroom stations, each offering different types of instruction:
- app use (see recommendations at end of article)
- guided reading with the teacher attending a handful of students
- buddy reading with two students helping each other
- individual reading with books
a QR code exercise, in which students solve a problem printed on a card, then check their answers using the QR code on the card. In Rich’s classroom, the problem is to unscramble the letters of a word. Students write their answers on an erasable whiteboard and take turns using the QR code reader to check their answers. For more information on using QR codes, see “Using QR codes in the special ed classroom”.
Tips for success
Rich offered several tips for successful implementation of station rotation.
- Start simple, with just one station to begin with, and let the students explore the station and ask questions. Gradually add stations, letting students become accustomed to them one at a time.
- Have consistent routines. This is very important.
- Enforce expectations from day one. Rich let her students help make a list of rules. These included “Headphones go down when teacher is talking,” and “Devices must be carried with two hands.”
- Reinforce the rules. Occasionally Rich will stop the class and ask “Who can tell me” how to use devices in the right way? She will ask “What did you notice?” so the class will notice each others’ behavior. She mentions when someone is doing something correctly.
- Have reasonable consequences. When Rich notices a student disobeying a rule, the student loses the right to use a device for the day, and has to work from a workbook. Rich advises against using book reading as a punishment. Book reading should be kept as a reward.
- Utilize student experts. Some of your students will become expert users. Let them walk around the classroom and help others.
- Keep students’ passwords on a ring of differently-colored notecards.
- Assign colors to students to make their password cards easier to find. Dealing with passwords can be time-consuming, especially with less-able students, so let other student experts assist until the class becomes proficient at entering passwords.
- For special needs students, make “logging in” part of their behavior plan, and give them rewards for doing it correctly.
- Get good headphones for students as soon as you can. Headphones are needed to keep the classroom quiet. Avoid ear-buds if you can — they fall out easily and can get dirty with ear wax. Headphones that cover the ear work better.
- Wipe down devices, especially headphones, with Clorox wipes.
- Be patient. It may take a little time for students to smoothly rotate between stations. Rich estimated that with some classes, this might take until January. A classroom assistant can be very helpful at the beginning.
- Tell parents which apps their children are using, and encourage play at home. Most low-income parents have smart phones.
- Try flipping the classroom. Rich makes videos for kids to watch at home, using ShowMe and TES Teach with Blendspace.
Rich said that at first, she only had one iPad, which she projected on a whiteboard for the whole class to see. She used Donors Choose to add more devices, and also applied for a grant using Title 1 funds, since her school is in a disadvantaged neighborhood. She bought used iPads on Amazon.
Rich uses the following in her classroom for reading:
- Teach Your Monster to Read 3 (see PlayWorthy review).
- Osmo Words, which includes manipulatives
- Raz-Kids, for just-right reading
- ShowMe, to create lessons
- TES Teach with Blendspace, to create lessons and playlists
Rich recommended joining Squiggle Park, a new website which offers reading games for preschoolers through grade 2, including collaborative play. It offers progress reports and other teacher tools. Squiggle Park is in development but is open for teacher review.
For more information, see Rich’s Twitter feed, @edtechSAE, as well as the webinar “Using Technology to Teach Pre-Reading Skills to Pre-K-2 Children” on in the PreK-3 Digital Learning community on edWeb.net.