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You are here: Home > Online Articles > The Differentiation Station



The Differentiation Station

By Geoff Richman


The Differentiation Station
Six members of the seventh-grade-level team ambled into Lindsay’s classroom at The International School of Amsterdam (ISA), sat down in one of the chairs at her u-shaped table and, upon seeing the paper in front of them, looked up with expectant half-smiles. “Can we do this?” one of the teachers asked.? “This is exactly what I need right now,” exhaled another.? Lindsay and Clair handed each of them a set of colored pencils or thin markers, with which they immediately commenced coloring in the mandala designs. As their middle school compatriots tried to stay inside the lines (Clair gently reminded them, “You can keep coloring as long as you be sure to listen”), our two learning support teachers presented “The Differentiation Station,” a reclaimed bookshelfish piece of furniture with six compartments, each containing a specific tool students might use to find success in their classrooms. “We have bands,” Lindsay held up the physical therapist’s go-to rubber resistance strip, “that can be stretched between the legs of a desk so that a student can swing their feet without drawing the attention of their peers.” “Stress balls do something similar,” Clair said, holding up a pair of squishy figurines that fit into one’s palm. Lindsay asked one of the seventh-grade students with whom she works what they believe to be a benefit of the fidgets. “I use it to keep my hands busy when I’m thinking.” Students, particularly those who struggle to remain attentive, benefit from the extra movement. In keeping his or her physical self stimulated, one is more able to focus their minds on the learning tasks at hand. Research conducted in 2015 by Hartanto, et al., suggests “an optimal level of arousal is required for peak cognitive performance.” Lindsay asked if it was a good idea to use one of these stress balls when typing. Her student almost laughed at such an obvious notion: “Nooooo.” On the bottom shelf of the Station rest eight or ten “wobble discs,” inflated rubber cushions, smooth on one side, nubs on the other. “These allow students a bit of movement while they work,” Clair said. “And they don’t draw too much attention, either.” Lindsay added. She then turned to another student and asked him, “Why do you have it under your desk?” “It gives my feet something to do,” he replied. Holding a timer in her hand, Lindsay showed the Grade 7 faculty how the backwards timer works as a visual manifestation of time passing. “This is a good reminder to our kiddos about how much time they really have to complete an assignment. Some of you do the same through your computer; this is just something a student can have with them independent of the rest of the class.” One of the seated grown-ups suggested, “We can be aware of what we think [any] student might need on the day-to-day...” “And send them down here to grab what they need,“ Clair finished her colleague’s sentence with a smile wide as the Amstel River. Lindsay reached into one of the station’s cubbies before turning around waving paper. “We have graphic organizers for essay-starters and evidence/analysis paragraph writing and other purposes, too. Feel free to look through these in case you find something you like. We find these can really help organize what our kids want to say.” Picking up a matte-black metal contraption, Lindsay placed down on the table in front of her peers what looked like a hospital tray designed by George Lucas. “This is a stand-up desk that can be raised and lowered depending on the height of our students. It allows them to stand during class while still staying on task.” She demonstrated its height adaptability for kids of all sizes. Cognizant of their compatriots’ time, Clair leaned in and removed three folders from the compartment labeled “To Do” and, rather than sharing them with the grown-ups, handed one to each of the students / magician’s assistants: “Would you each please open yours and complete the task inside.” Leaving the room giddy with freedom, the three seventh-grade students embarked on their independent missions. As they did so, Lindsay illuminated the purpose of the folders: “Sometimes we recognize that a student might need a break from the class—75 minutes is a long time for anyone to stay seated. If you think they should move around, send them down here and they can grab a ‘To Do’ folder.” Clair said, “Maybe the direction is to make 20 copies of mandalas, or run a note to another teacher.” “A ‘To Do’ folder gives them an opportunity to get out of the room with a specific place to go so they don’t just peek into other classrooms,” Lindsay completed the explanation. Without saying anything, the teachers’ eyebrows rose like venetian blinds as they realized the positive implications of such an intervention. “So that’s the Differentiation Station. Feel free to use any of these things whenever you wish. Lots of students are using them already. They even choose different tools depending on the class,” Lindsay said. “If you find yourselves using any of these regularly and you think you might want to buy them,” Clair intoned, “we will be happy to help you with the purchase.” Sweeping his arm over the table’s wares, one of the teachers shared his enthusiasm: “I’m glad that these are available for all students.” “Exactly,” said another. >Geoff Richman is Head of Upper School Learning Support at the International School of Amsterdam.> Reference: Hartanto, T. A., Kraft, C. E., Iosif, A. M. and Schweitzer, J. B. 2015.” A trial-by-trial analysis reveals more intense physical activity is associated with better cognitive control performance in attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder.” Child Neuropsychology 22 (5): 618–26.

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