We help kids learn to speak real Spanish. For life.™

by Erica Fischer on Mar 16, 2015

Meet the needs of all students in a multilevel language classroom

Welcome back to #langchat! Last Thursday, participants discussed how to best meet the needs of all students in a class, regardless of level. They began by describing what multiple ability levels look like in the classroom before reflecting on how to fairly assess students whose proficiency levels vary in a single class. Langchatters then discussed how to effectively handle feedback and goal setting and differentiate practice to ensure growth for students of all proficiency levels. Before the hour came to a close, they commented on how to ensure that students meet individualized goals. If you missed a beat in this rapid-fire exchange, you weren’t alone! @MmeFarab said, “I am definitely getting steamrolled by #langchat tonight. [There’s too] much to keep up with!” and @AHSblaz noted, “ha! [This is the first] time I have ever seen ‘rate limit exceeded’ on a chat…things are popping tonight!”

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the lively discussion and to last week’s moderating team, Amy (@alenord), Don (@dr_dmd), Laura (@SraSpanglish), Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell), John (@CadenaSensei), and Cristy (@msfrenchteach)!

Question 1: What do multiple ability levels look like in your classroom?

Langchatters interact with students of varying ability levels within the same class on a daily basis. Some instructors teach classes made up of both second language learners and heritage speakers. For example, @RyanWestBosson wrote, “In my Spanish 1 classes I have a mix of beginners (not absolute beginners though) and heritage speakers. [There’s a] big range.” @esantacruz13 wrote that background can vary significantly within heritage language classes, as well: “[My students] are all native speakers, but [some] of them have never taken a Spanish class. Others have lived in Mexico.” In second language classes, participants noted that multiple course levels are often grouped together. For example, @CadenaSensei said, “My ‘upper level’ course is [a mix of] Japanese [level] 3 Regular, [level] 3 Pre-AP, and [level] 4 AP. [Proficiency] ranges from Novice-High to emerging [Intermediate-Mid].” @jklopp said that these kinds of combinations are common in her experience: “Many [Oklahoma] teachers have to combine Spanish 3, 4, [and] 5 in same classroom. [It] takes a special teacher to do that.” @katchiringa shared yet another type of class make-up, students of different age levels: “Also, [I] have [middle school] students mixed in with [high school] students. That’s challenging!” While many reflected on the challenge of working with students of multiple ability levels in the same class, @tmsaue1 put a more positive spin on the situation: “[Real] life is mixed level. [Perhaps] this problem is a blessing in disguise.”

Question 2: How can we fairly grade or assess students whose proficiency levels vary in a single class?

Many instructors felt that students should be assessed in terms of individual growth and should not be compared to others in the class. @kballestrini wrote, “[Each] student [should] only [be] judged against his or her own growth and ability level. Why should I compare Johnny to Anne?” @sonrisadelcampo agreed, writing, “[Students’] grade should reflect their [individual] progress; [it should] not [be] a comparison to other [students].” Participants proposed a growth model “[where instructors assess students] at entry and exit to measure progress” (@ProfeCochran). @dr_dmd echoed this point, “Keep a #growthmindset as a class norm!” and encouraged instructors to allow students to re-do assignments until they get it.

While some instructors favored this mindset in theory, they acknowledged that it can be difficult to implement in practice. @BeckyLeid wrote, “I couldn’t agree more that [students should] be assessed [based] on [their] own progress, but when you have 32 [students] and 45 [minutes]…I run out of time!” @AHSblaz said, “I agree [that it’s] sometimes hard to individually assess 100+ [students] daily…a good rubric [and] rough draft-final draft approach [with opportunities for re-dos] can help.” @shakejively added that this more personalized approach can feel less structured, and @laprofeloca said, “[Once] I tried scoring each [student] … at his own unique starting place. [It was a] good idea, [but it was a] grading nightmare.”

Question 3: How can we effectively handle feedback and goal setting for students with different ability levels?

Participants suggested a variety of ways to deliver feedback and initiate goal setting for students with different ability levels. @kballestrini proposed that instructors could have a “conversation with each student [in which they] talk about growth, show evidence [of progress] through [documents], [and assess] strengths [and weaknesses].” @dr_dmd recommended using portfolios to evidence growth: “Portfolios are a great way to help [students] document their growth over time. [There are lots] of ways to do so – I like blogs [and] websites best.” Alternatively, @kballestrini suggested assembling portfolios using Google Drive: “Google Drive provides [an] excellent place for digital records, easy annotation (comments), feedback, and [points] for discussion.” @dr_dmd pointed out other tools for useful feedback: “Peer feedback and [the] opportunity for revision is important and powerful!” @RyanWestBoss agreed that students of different backgrounds and proficiencies can offer feedback to peers: “[Students] can give feedback to each other on a regular basis, especially when we have heritage and native [speakers in a class].” @bxie3 also saw the benefit of feedback on multiple drafts: “[It seems like] multiple drafts would help. When [students] have to rewrite their text, they pay more attention to the feedback.” Additionally, @SraFogerty added that exemplars can help students set clear goals: “Exemplars really are the key. Students need to see the standard [or] expectations in order to reach it!”

Question 4: How can we differentiate practice to ensure students’ growth despite different levels?

#Langchat participants suggested differentiating assignments to promote individual growth. @SECottrell wrote, “I saw [an advertisement] in a homeschool catalog for teaching kids in different grades using [the] same theme, [but] different tasks.” She suggested that this could be applicable for language teachers in multilevel classrooms. @camccullough1 said, “Yes!!!!! Modifying the assignment so that each student grows is more important than it being the same.” Additionally, @dr_dmd noted that having students of different levels work together on assignments can promote growth: “I like my [students] to be in [heterogeneous] groups to support each other with their varied abilities.” @LisaShepard2 wrote that feedback already offers a source of differentiation: “If [we are] evaluating proficiency, the feedback provides the differentiation. All [students are] striving to improve proficiency on each task.”

Question 5: What are strategies that ensure that students meet their individualized goals we’ve set for them?

Langchatters seemed to agree that, students must take initiative in setting out to reach their goals, but added that instructors can offer guidance and support along the way. @kballestrini wrote, “[We] can’t ensure anything – [Students] have to have an active role in process; we can only provide opportunity and scaffolding.” @dr_dmd agreed and preferred to reframe the question: “I might actually ask – What strategies ensure [that students] meet the goals they set for themselves? We guide, they drive!” He added, “We need to stop holding hands so much. [Students] need to be responsible for their own learning – we support [them], but they do the work.” @tiesamgraf asked, “Do we set goals for them or with them?… [That] might make a difference!” and @RyanWestBoss pointed out, “Teaching students to personalize our goals and set their own goals is so important :-).”


For many #langchat participants, mixed-level classes are the norm. Many Langchatters encouraged tracking individual student progress over time instead of comparing students to one another and documenting student growth by means of a portfolio. They also recommended making modifications to assignments in order to support growth for students of varying levels. Lastly, #langchat participants agreed that students must ultimately take responsibility for their progress, working to achieve their personal goals with guidance from instructors along the way.

Thank You!

Thank you to all those who continue to make time for #langchat once… or twice a week! As @alenord reminded participants, “Don’t forget that we have #langchat Saturday mornings at 9 a.m. central. The fun continues! Same topic, [different] time!”

Due to space limitations, many tweets had to be omitted from this summary. To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. If you have a topic you’re eager to discuss, send in your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible!

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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