Case Study: Western School of Science and Technology’s Lab Rotation Mode

Case Study: Western School of Science and Technology’s Lab Rotation Mode

In this article, Blair Mishleau shares how consistent use, meaningful implementation, and some pizza helped move Western School of Science and Technology to the 82% percentile in Newsela performance!


If you’re well-versed in blended learning, you likely know of the different models that exist to pursue blended learning in your school. The Christensen Institute defined these different models years ago, but teachers are likely most familiar with the Station Rotation Model. At Western School of Science and Technology, some of our teachers use a station rotation model, as well.

In addition, we have a lab rotation model for students in 7th-9th grade. This stemmed from two reasons: 1.) Our network requires us to use a specific playlist-based reading and math program that creates content based on students’ Map Growth data and, 2.) We had several sections of students without a core or elective course for them.  Our lab rotation model was created to fix these two problems - getting required time on task on a network-specified program, and providing students with a meaningful period.

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Previously, this model was more open-ended, with teachers using programs in different ways and holding students to different expectations.

When I started at Western, this block, called Acceleration, became one of my workstreams. I sought to codify some systems. First, we set a schedule that provides structure, balance and variety. As we had recently acquired a Newsela schoolwide license, as well as one for TenMarks Math, these were added to the weekly rotation, in addition to the network-required reading and math program.

In addition, the Acceleration team and I built out or found meaningful tracking tools. These provided students with more ways to make their learning visible, while celebrating their hard work. Finally, we added several incentive programs to celebrate students who were excelling. This included quarterly prizes for top-achieving students, as well as a pizza party for the class that had the strongest achievement data. I created a Google Slides presentation that overviews the expectations for every block, to help make expectations more uniform. 

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Mondays are Newsela days, meaning that all students in Acceleration read at least two articles. We implemented a few strategies that have helped us move to the 82% percentile in terms of schoolwide performance (from the 62% last year)! Here are a few of them:

  1. Annotate like your hair’s on fire

    • The Acceleration-wide expectation is that, for all article, students write 6 or more complete-sentence annotations for each article they read. In particular, this is helpful for students who sometimes rush through quizzes, as well as our students who are currently reading at a lower Lexile level.

  2. Track it, track it, track it!

    • We use this tracker, created by one of our Acceleration teachers, to help students track their progress. It helps them see where they have improved, and allows the teacher to see quickly where they’re at!

  3. Focus on the reading skills

    • Each week, I print out a paper copy of the binder activity for each Acceleration period. I highlight the reading skills that students most need to work on, so teachers know which articles they should assign students.

  4. Choice!

    • While teachers occasionally assign content to students on Newsela, by-and-large students are able to read Newsela like adults read the NYTimes: they have a choice. This allows all students to have a personalized experience, both in terms of content and Lexile level!

  5. Consistency

    • Every Monday, we are on Newsela. Students know the expectations (annotate, track your progress, choose your own content, etc.). This minimizes wasted time and any student confusion.

We’re proud of the growth our school has made in Newsela, but we definitely still have room to improve. Do you have a class or lab strategy you use? If so, please let me know! You can find me on Twitter at @Blairtheblur, or you can leave a comment below!


Hear more from Blair on Tuesday, March 20, as he hosts our #NewselaChat at 7 pm ET/4 pm PT. Come and join the conversation!

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