When my students rotate between their blended learning stations, there is no digital timer for them to watch. Instead, they move to the music.
A few years ago, a special education facilitator let me in on a secret: digital timers are great when students are fixated on the board but not when they are moving to another location. It’s too much for them to think about. Do I have all my materials? Where am I going next? Is my favorite chair still available? The last thing on their minds is checking how much time they have to get there.
So, I started using songs to transition my students instead. I edited Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” down to around 1 minute. This is super easy to do in a software like GarageBand. You just import the song file and then trim the song down to the length of time it should take students to get to the next station. You could also have a student helper stop a song at a certain point if you don’t want to edit a track. I’ve found between 50 and 60 seconds is perfect (over 1 minute is a little long). It’s good to either fade down your new ending in the editing process as a signal for students that the song is stopping, or cut the track after a very punchy line.
For example, in Swift’s song, I stopped when she said the last “off” in the “shake it off” chorus because the students knew it so well. You wouldn’t want to end in an unnatural place like after “shake” or “it.” I’ve also used Imagine Dragons “I’m On Top of the World.” In their chorus, they say “cuz I’m on top of the world, hey!” and the kids love that my song ends right after the “hey.” It has the same effect as a timer because students know it’s counting down, but they can move around without having to keep an eye on the board.
Just like any other procedure, students will need several practice sessions on what it looks like and sounds like to move safely and quickly to the next session. I started by playing the song to the class twice while they remained seated so they got a feel for when it stopped. Then, I explained what students should look like and where they should be once the song was finished. At computers, that looks like head phones on and students logging in. At the teacher table, it means you have all your materials and have started the Do Now unprompted. In read to self, you are in your cozy spot with your voice off and book open. Finally, we practiced. A lot. After the first practice session, I checked in with students on whether they hit the target behaviors. Then, we kept practicing until it was perfect. And then, we did three more perfect practices for good measure. I still review the expectations daily before our stations begin and always ask them to go back and try it again when things start to fall apart.
I’ve found that using pop songs is very effective and fun for station transitions. I only used the two songs (one for math and one for reading) all year last year, every single day. Since we use each song for 4 rotations, that means we listened to that snippet of “Shake It Off” 720 times! The kids never got sick of them (I sure did!) but I’m going to introduce a new song each month this year just to keep them on their toes.