Personalized Student Learning with Station Rotation: A Descriptive Study

Personalized approaches to student learning may be one strategy to improving student learning. In a personalized learning approach, educators incorporate students’ specific needs, talents, and strengths in their instruction. In "station rotation" classrooms, groups of students rotate among different types of learning modalities, such as computer-based instruction, group projects, individual tutoring, or paper-and-pencil assignments. This approach does not require large changes to the school day, schedule, or building infrastructure, meaning it may be more feasible for some schools or districts to implement than other approaches to personalized learning that require more substantial departures from the traditional education model.

“[Station rotation] allows me to have students focus on one particular topic or type of question or skill. Even if they’re not working with me, I’ll have them work on something at their station, and [it] allows me to switch it up, or change things as needed. [It is] probably one of my most used tools in differentiation.”
-Station Rotation Teacher

To learn more about station rotation, the AIR study team conducted a descriptive study. As part of this study, the team reviewed the research literature on station rotation and personalized learning more generally and developed a theory of action that illustrates key features and hypothesized outcomes of station rotation. Building on this theory, we developed a definition of station rotation and used that to support our examination of station rotation implementation, principals’ and teachers’ perspectives of station rotation, and the association between station rotation and student outcomes.

The AIR team recruited five sites to participate in the study: three charter management organizations and two traditional school districts. In each participating site, we administered a teacher survey to all Grades 4–8 teachers. The survey enabled us to identify teachers who use station rotation (as defined by the study), understand aspects of implementation, and gauge teachers’ perspectives of station rotation. We also conducted interviews with station rotation teachers and principals of schools using station rotation and administered a survey to students in select station rotation classrooms. Lastly, we analyzed student-level administrative data to examine student outcomes.

Personalizing Student Learning With Station Rotation: A Descriptive Study

Research Report

Read the full research report from the study (PDF).

AIR researchers conducted a descriptive study of station rotation. The study described what station rotation looks like in classrooms, examined perspectives about station rotation, and explored student learning associated with station rotation.

AIR researchers found that teachers and principals had positive perceptions of station rotation. Compared to non-station rotation teachers, teachers who use station rotation reported higher levels of differentiated instruction, more availability of data to drive decision making, and a higher quality digital curriculum. However, based on the study sample, the AIR researchers observed no difference in student test score achievement between students in station rotation classes and similar students in non-station rotation classes. Given study design limitations, the field would benefit from additional research on the effect of station rotation on student learning outcomes.

Personalizing Student Learning With Station Rotation

Practitioner Brief

Read the full practitioner brief from the study (PDF).

With the start of the school year, educators are looking for instructional strategies that can be adapted for both in-person or virtual instruction at any moment due to the persistent and unpredictable school closures in responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important that these strategies be able to meet every student’s individual learning needs particularly as we consider potential learning losses as a result of school closures.

Station rotation is one approach to promote personalized learning that policymakers or educators may want to consider implementing to meet students’ individual learning needs. In this approach, teachers use technology and have flexibility in grouping students to provide differentiated instruction. Individual classrooms can use station rotation with minimal up-front investment and the model is flexible to work in a variety of classrooms. Station rotation may also be adapted to use with students during in-person and virtual instruction for schools considering hybrid or blended learning models in order to safely re-open in the fall.