Differentiation in a Foreign Language Class (How is that for a boring title?)

Differentiation is mostly what my boss talks about (on most days). Of course, differentiation is a very old sheep, wearing a new fancy-colored wool coat now instead of the old wool-colored wool coat she used to wear. What’s really new is that all most teachers at my school are expected to make differentiation a priority in their classrooms. We must show evidence that it is occurring, and that by differentiating, we are meeting more of the needs of more students.

In the little lonely vacuum that is my classroom, I sit by myself and concoct stuff, on a daily basis, hoping always to do a better job of teaching and meeting needs of my 130 students. Here’s some stuff I’ve been thinking about (specifically as it relates to acquiring language through reading the short novels). You will likely notice that the bulleted items are mostly “teacher will do” items NOT “student will do” items. Paradigm shift from most FL classrooms. That, of course, doesn’t mean that students sit around and do nothing. However, they are not responsible for differentiating instruction and assessment. I am.

Am I using a variety of instructional accommodations (hate this word, too), to enhance the acquisition experience for all students? Am I meeting my students “where they are” in their own acquisition journey and providing them with the supports needed to help them extend that acquisition? (I have not used content, process, and product jargon too much here. I feel it obfuscates more than illuminates.)

  • providing visual cues (writing the structures on the board with English translation/drawings/physical objects/pictures)
  • attaching physical gestures to structures/vocabulary
  • provide reading material that is or can be made compelling to the students (great story, personalize, parallel stories, etc.)
  • summarizing text knowledge (in first language and in target language)
  • providing variety repeated readings (reading alone, reading while listening, reading and translating, etc.)
  • targeting vocabulary/structures (high-frequency structures in the book)
  • help students to create an individualized word library (flashcards on their metal rings)
  • paraphrasing students’ responses during discussions
  • pointing out cognates
  • linking the content to their personal experiences-PQA (personalized questions and answers)
  • using tiered questioning/assignments/assessments based upon the students’ level of readiness (yes/no, either/or, who/what/where/when/why, on up the taxonomy)
  • providing choice in assessment (how they show me what they know-answering orally, drawing, writing, acting, traditional comprehension assessments)
  • permitting social negotiation-time to talk to each other/to me about the meaning of what they are reading
  • using facial expression, voice dynamics, hand and body gestures as I read aloud be an effective communicator of language
  • give students time and space to grapple with the reading quietly and on their own (knowing the text is within proper reading range for them) in addition to the teacher reading to them as they follow along in the text

I know there are probably a ton of things I am missing, but I just wanted to get it down on “paper”. I think of it all as sort of a “template filter”. I must sufficiently train myself to do these things automatically as I plan and teach. TPRS and differentiation are really a match made in heaven with a few tweaks. This stuff works for all kids in all subject areas. I am so glad I teach foreign language this way. In addition to becoming Spanish speakers, I really believe my students improve overall academically because of the kind of instruction they receive. It just makes sense.

Just musing. As I was finishing this, I remembered Susie’s administrator’s checklist which probably has all of this and more on it. Well, it was good to just sit down and pound it out of my brain to see what I really think and do.

Please feel free to add, subtract, illuminate me, or not. I teach alone and really like the idea of talking to others in my field (who use tprs) about these things.

3 thoughts on “Differentiation in a Foreign Language Class (How is that for a boring title?)

  1. Do you have a lesson plan sample where you actually differentiate that you can share? I believe that I am still at the concrete operational stage of learning….lol

    1. Hola Ernesto–I got a kick out of your “concrete operational stage” remark. I need a good laugh today, and btw, I belong to that club, too! I welcome you request for an sample of a differentiated lesson plan. It crossed my mind that it would be more helpful to you and to me if you could set me up with your real-life lesson scenario. I could give you concrete suggestions for differentiation. Think about that, and let me know. Glad to help and send you to other experts “en la materia”. Where do you work and who do you teach?

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