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by Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell on Apr 20, 2018

Differentiation in the World Language Classroom

Almost every world language class has learners that span a spectrum of proficiencies and needs. Strategies teachers use to meet that variety of needs are collectively called differentiation.  In a recent #langchat, world language teachers discussed how to use differentiation in the interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational modes.

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Defining Differentiation

What is differentiation? Many #langchat teachers shared their perspectives on this helpful classroom practice.  A key concept in the discussion was the individual student. Teacher @PRHSspanish shared, “For me, differentiation means using proficiency and authentic tasks to custom-fit certain things. We don’t all have to do numbers 1-10; or perhaps this student wants 11-20. [Differentiation] offers up different options, modifications, accommodations!” Similarly, @Mmeshep shared, “differentiation means I’m doing my best to provide what each student needs to develop his/her proficiency.” Differentiation meets students where they are at, despite their proficiency level.  It “realizes that students are all individuals with individual needs and individual speeds” (@Welangley). @SrtaWalpole explained, “Differentiation to me means providing opportunities for students to grow in the target language with a variety of learning styles… Also providing specific feedback to help students work on individualized and specific areas of growth.”

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Differentiated Tasks in the Interpretive Mode

After the critical task of defining differentiation, teachers shared how they reach individual learners when designing tasks in the interpretive mode.  The interpretive mode involves listening and reading skills when no response is expected or required (think: reading a news article or listening to a podcast).

For this mode, @SraDentlinger offers different levels of completion on the same task: “There’s a level 2, 3, 4 and they’re all different.” For stories, @Sspielb asks students to demonstrate comprehension in different ways: “[Afterwards], some draw it on a storyboard, some students write it in the past tense, some students are given visuals (with specific words) for each section and order the events, some are given the story cut up to put in order.” @Marishawkins also shared that for interpretive listening, “@edpuzzle allows students to listen to a specific section as many times at they need. Or they can annotate their own video to explain what they know via project.” @TheGriceisRight encouraged teachers to use infographics, “I live for infographics. I use a basic rubric to score students in identifying, explaining, and inferring. Students can really show their abilities when it comes to inferring!” There are many creative ways to differentiate in the interpretive mode.

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Differentiated Tasks in the Interpersonal Mode

Differentiation in the interpersonal mode can help students with varied skills and learning approaches improve their interaction with other language speakers. Language teachers shared their ideas and examples.

  • @Mmeshep said, “I partner up students based on their proficiency level so that higher proficiency students are challenged and lower proficiency students aren’t overwhelmed.”
    • @MlleSulewski bounced off that idea: “Just read an activity idea recently that said to do this and put higher proficiency student in a passive role, so as not to “dwarf” or intimidate lower prof student. Genius!”
  • @RhulsHuls said, “I love chat stations-hang pictures around room-rotate around and talk!”
  • @PRHSspanish differentiates by “giving a ‘question bank’ instead of a word bank, of an ‘answer bank,’ and they come up with the questions for 5 of the 10 given, etc., to ask their partner. [It is] so fun watching them choose and figure out!”
  • @sspielb enjoys the “story chain game which uses TPR. [Students] tell a short story that they draw. Then [students] circle up and retell. Give options to keep as is, add character descriptions, make it past tense. Every student participated & kept themselves accountable.”

Differentiated Tasks in Presentational Mode

The presentational mode may be the easiest mode for differentiation, though perhaps the least needed, at least at earlier levels.  Teachers emphasized encouraging creativity and student choice. @SECottrell said, “This might be the easiest one. Tell a story. Use the tool you like. Etc. And let them choose a display board if they want!” @EspanolTeacher agreed: “[Let] students choose how they decide to present the info. Lots of free-choice and T saying ‘as long as you include everything required’. Let students shine by teaching them to create.”  @Welangley supported that idea as well. He championed choice and said, “differentiate the rubric, the medium, the topic.” He added, “I don’t do a lot of presentational mode, but I do allow students to share what they’ve done/read”

@Marishawkins added an important suggestion on making the prompts able to be broadly applied: “I believe if a prompt is open-ended enough it is differentiated! None of walking through a forest and you meet a genie and have wishes so use the subjunctive!”

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Efficiently Differentiating the Same Activity for Small and Large Groups

Langchat participants concluded the discussion by sharing how to use differentiation between both small and large groups.

  • @TheGriceisRight shared, “I think my easiest go-to is for larger groups to break them up and assign each group a role. In small groups, I assign each student a role. Then report back to the class/group.”
  • @senorita_wilson included, “I think this may be where targeted small group instruction comes in. You can pull a small group that you know may struggle or even some students who may be ‘experts’ and work with the separately while the rest work on a different variation.”
  • @sspielb uses “jigsaw so each small group contributes to the whole! This is the most fun for BREAKOUT activities where they are all finding clues to solve that will help them solve the case together.”

Thank You

Thank you to all of the teachers and participants who collaborated to make the discussion on Differentiation in the World Language Classroom possible. A special thank you to Elizabeth (@SraDentlinger) for her leadership in moderating this langchat.

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Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell
Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell is a homeschool mom of three bilingual children. She’s also a Spanish teacher and the COO and chief storyteller for Calico Spanish.

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