Do you struggle to get everything in… direct instruction on IEP goals, high levels of repetition & practice, independent work, etc.? I’ve been there. That’s why I developed this system for work centers or stations, varied practice, and generalization. You, too, can easily implement this setup to better meet student needs and relieve stress & business.
Structuring work stations
This system or time is called “work centers or stations” in my classroom. We dedicate an hour-long block of time in our daily schedule for our work stations. Break the stations up into 2 consecutive stations. Between the 2 stations, students have time to “cash in” using their token economy work for cards. Most students are more focused early in the day, so try to schedule your work stations early in the day. Make this time a priority and don’t schedule students to be pulled for therapies or other services they may receive.
You want to have only 1- 3 students at each station, so try to schedule paras & therapists to be in the room during stations. Many times I have a station that is run by my OT or speech therapist. The key to this running smoothly is to plan ahead!
Make a weekly schedule for the stations, post it in the classroom, and give copies to everyone. This makes it super easy for everyone to get settled and right to work when it’s time for stations to start. This also allows me to make sure that each student is getting to all of the stations and is working on each of their goals.
Work stations management
First, decide who is going to work on which goals or type of goals. When a student comes to my station, I work directly on each one of their academic IEP goals with them across content areas. For example, I will address math and reading goals in the same station with a student.
I assign my paras to run either a math or concepts station. Each para works with students on the IEP goals assigned to their station. Other skills that fit their station’s theme will be added as well. So for example, at a math station, a student is working on IEP goals to add & tell time. While those are a priority because they are IEP goals, the para will also introduce other math skills as directed by the teacher.
Once you have assigned a para to a station, make sure you set the para up for success with training on:
- Which IEP goals are being targeted
- What activities to do with the student to target those specific goals
- How to take data on the goals
- What to do if the student isn’t making progress
- What to do when the student has achieved the goal
Choose a data collection system and train all of your staff on how to use it. I created a simple data sheet that makes it easy to track the students’ progress. The student’s goal goes at the top of the data sheet & the specifics are noted on the bottom.
For example, if a student has a goal to identify all of the lowercase letters by the end of the year, it is listed at the top of the data sheet. At the bottom, I would write details like “ will receptively choose a given lowercase letter in a field of three choices, starting with letters a-h”. I then give a copy of the data sheet to each adult who will target that goal with the student. Data sheet directions should be so clear that anyone can pick it up and run the activity.
Each station has a folder for each student with all of their datasheets in it. When a student achieves mastery level for 3 consecutive days, the data sheet comes to me to be updated. When a student masters the full goal, that data sheet gets moved to the left side of the student’s folder and that goal is practiced once a week in order to maintain the skill.
Organizing work stations
Develop a system for storing the materials needed for each work center or station. We use large Rubbermaid bins. Each station has a bin containing all of the necessary materials, along with the students’ folders for that station. During work stations, each adult leading a station grabs their bin, the student/students they are assigned to work with, and start working.
Benefits to using a bin rather than a cabinet or bookshelf for storing the station materials:
- Everything you need to target every goal is at your fingertips
- If you need to change locations due to behaviors, facility problems, etc. you can easily move all of the materials.
- Everything is contained in the bin is already packed up- no packing and re-packing for ESY!
Read more about this system: Direct Instruction Work Centers
behavior management in stations
Next, create a plan on how you will structure reinforcement & behavior systems. Most of my students use a token economy system for reinforcement, but not every student is at the same rate of reinforcement. Some of my students need reinforcement every 15 minutes while others are able to go 25-30 minutes.
For students who need to “cash in” every 15 minutes in order to be successful, we have them earn their reinforcer in the middle of each station (we try to make this one an edible or something that is quiet/non-disruptive) and again at the end of each station. My other students who are able to work the full 30 minutes before they earn a reinforcer, get reinforced at the end of the station.
It can be difficult for students who are still working if one of the other stations ends and those students are earning. To avoid that, I bought a wireless doorbell, and my staff and students all know that nobody “cashes in” to get their reinforcer until they hear the doorbell play a song.
Benefits of this work stations structure
I have been running work centers or stations like this for many, many years and it has been highly effective in my classroom. Some of the benefits include:
- Ensure that students have a dedicated time to work on IEP goals every day
- Gives students the opportuinty to practice skills with different materials, different people and different settings. This type of varied practice leads to better generalization & functional skills.
- Students and staff thrive in the consistency of the structure
- Quicker progress
- Better sampling of data… if a student can only perform with the teacher then the skill has not been mastered.
The key really is to have a plan. It’s important to get everything set up and organized ahead of time, have a set schedule, and make sure all of the adults understand exactly what is expected at their given stations. Trust me, you will see how smoothly it can go if you just take the time to get a system in place.
Materials for Work Centers
Choose your materials wisely to keep storage space to a minimum. I look for hands-on materials that I can use in multiple ways. To help you extend learning with materials, I have begun updating resources in my TPT store with 10 additional ideas to use the materials for further learning.
Another thing to think about with materials is how you can change or increase the rigor without having to teach a student or adult how to use the activity. We want the focus to be on practicing the skills. I highly recommend theme units for this reason. It makes everything easier… planning, generalizing, etc. Click HERE to read more about using theme units for planning & instruction.