Think about all the skills a student must be able to do, to be able to succeed at the one they are currently supposed to master.
For example: If the current skill was solving two step equations, the map of prerequisite skills might look like this:
(note: when I do 2 Step Equations, I also have a station for one step equations with rational coefficients, and one for the distributive property)
Since you are going to have students working on a variety of skills at the same time. Each station must be self-sufficient. Which means the station must be tutorial, as well as have an appropriate amount (and kind) of practice for the student to master the skill.
I make the station last for 3 days (you may choose a different time period).
When learning a skill, it’s important that the skill has been explained and modeled for the learner. There also needs to be a way for the learner to refer to the explanation and modeled examples when they are doing independent practice.
I do this through videos, when I can get laptops, like Khan Academy’s and Math Antics; I also use the textbook. Either way, I have the students take notes.
The traditional teaching model shows the students how to do the work, and then has them practice repeatedly. However, the answers are not provided, so the student does not know if they are doing it correctly. Thus, they reinforce a bad skill, by repeating the wrong process, and then are penalized for their mistakes.
Instead, they should practice perfectly – by checking their work after each try, and learning from their mistakes, without being penalized for engaging in the learning process.
Therefore, I give lots of practice online, which supplies immediate feedback, using IXL, KhanAcademy, aaamath, etc. Or, if none can be found, I build practice exercises through online tools like Google Forms or plickers.com.
I also assign questions from textbooks where the odd answers are in the back, or give worksheets with answers in a nearby location for them to check, which also shows the work.
Example of a station:
(I have the video links online, so the students can just click on a hyperlink instead of typing in the web address.)
Make a short Pre-Test that assesses the students’ ability to complete each skill. So in our example above, my test would look like:
Notice that there are no trick questions, no word problems, and no combination of skills. Because I am trying to isolate the individual skill that I am working on. Also note the brevity.
Each letter correlates to a skill that has a station. So if the student misses any in (A), he will be assigned the Adding Integers station.
The traditional teaching model does not expect mastery, since we promote everyone from one skill to the next regardless of how they did on the test.
I do not progress the student to the next skill until he/she demonstrates proficiency on the current skill. To measure this, I make another short assessment; again only measuring the skill within the station. I require a score of an 80% or better for the student to progress to the next station.
Learning is a process. We learn through trial and error.
Traditional teaching penalizes students for getting a question wrong, instead of accepting that this is part of the process.
Don’t promote students from one skill to the next until they show mastery. Instead, have them repeat the station (I use different videos and practice problems on the second and third time around, just to avoid hearing them say, “We’ve already done this.”).
Allow them to get questions wrong, and fail test, without fear of it hurting their grade. When a student repeats a station, and has to do the test again, I have the second test replace the first.
I purchase a giant oil pan, because they are cheap and magnetic, or a corkboard (like the above image). I then make a ladder of the skills running vertically up the pan. Each student helps me make their own name tag, which they are responsible for decorating and placing a magnet on.
The students place themselves on the step of the ladder concurrent with the skill that they are working on.
After the 3 day station has concluded, I give EVERYONE a quiz based on their current station. The next day is called “promotion day,” where we celebrate the students who passed their quiz, by playing music and having them move their name up the ladder as we all clap. Even my high school students enjoy this cheesy process.
There will be situations – a student who speaks a foreign language, someone who is struggling more than usual, or other circumstances – that will require adjusting.
The nice thing about this system is that it encourages flexibility. So if a student is progressing quickly and another is struggling, you can have one help the other.
If a student is absent during part of the process, have him/her skip that part of the station and continue with the rest of it. If they don’t pass the test, no big deal – they will do the station again, and the next test will replace the first.
If a student has failed a station repeatedly, you will have to get creative. You can send them back a station, break the station down into further sub-sections, spend more time with them, etc.
The point is to be flexible to help the student succeed.