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by Erica Fischer on Sep 9, 2016

How to Tailor the Curriculum with Multiple Levels in the Same Class

by Intel Free Press, on Flickr

In the world language education field, elementary teachers would certainly win in a competition for most variety in situations.  This one has 30 minutes per week and a total of 620 students, that one has 90 minutes per week with 270 students, this one has 7 home languages represented in a single classroom, that one has 65% heritage speakers and 20% having had zero exposure to the target language, and on and on.

The variety in timing is the reason Calico Spanish Classic for Schools offers both 30-minute and 60-minute pacing schedules for each chapter, but what about the issue of such widely varying language abilities in the same classroom?

Below, we take some of the content from Chapter 1 of Calico Spanish Classic and offer ways three types of students in the same classroom can be accommodated.

Azul

Teachers are encouraged to go over all the colors as they prefer, but in the interest of presenting vocabulary in manageable chunks for young children, Calico Spanish introduces one color at a time. In Chapter 1, children learn the color blue and begin to describe objects as blue.  In this lesson, you are instructed to use the book First Thousand Words in Spanish and a globe or map to introduce the concept. Then, in an extension activity, children begin a class color book and/or individual color books.

  • “I’ve never been exposed to Spanish before.”
    The curriculum’s teacher script is designed for this type of student as a baseline. Children may not understand and acquire the names for the objects you are describing as blue, but as you point and describe blue items, they will understand and be able to complete descriptions with the word azul.
    In the suggested extension of an individual color book, this child can be expected to simply label the color azul.
  • “I know some vocabulary.”
    These children have been taught basic vocabulary like numbers and colors before, but have never been asked to use them in a communicative activity. In whole-class or small-group interaction, they should be encouraged to complete the function of description by pointing to different items and including the verb: es azul. They may have also been taught lists of items like articles of clothing. Can they include names of these items? “La camisa es azul.
    If these children have started using phrases including verbs like es, this may be an opportunity to ask them to begin using different grammatical structures, such as los zapatos son azules.
    These types of descriptions (es azul, son azules) should appear in this child’s individual color book instead of just the word azul.
  • “I hear Spanish at home.”
    Children who are hearing Spanish spoken at home but are being educated in a predominantly English school situation in an English-speaking society have high interpretive listening skills, but are not usually asked to produce the language. They may even be discouraged from speaking Spanish by their families who equate success with higher English ability. History and societal factors have shown us that these children will grow up with a very limited ability to speak in Spanish, and their children will have little to no skill with the language at all.
    In whole-class interaction, you may choose to quickly ask a child in this category to be your asistente del día. After you point to something in the book or on the map that is azul, ask your asistente to show another, and take turns in this way.
    You may choose to divide your class into groups and make a heritage student the capitán who holds a picture book and turns the pages pointing to objects and describing them with a sentence but, as you did, leaving out the final word azul, to be filled in by the children in the group.
    This child’s individual color book can include both descriptions and perhaps opinions about the color, such as me gusta el azul, or connectors and additional adjectives: la ballena es grande y azul. Because heritage speakers hear so much of the language but do not as frequently see it written, they often struggle with spelling and punctuation in Spanish. This is not a focal point for non-heritage children, but asking for more accuracy in this area from these students is an effective differentiation strategy.

Game: “Diego dice”

Games are, of course, one of children’s favorite ways to interact with language in a way that lowers anxiety and engages the mind. As you conduct a game of Simon Says (Diego dice), for example, consider these ways you might adjust for multiple levels in the same classroom.

involve students in suggesting one or two extra commands, divide into groups and make them captains, reinforcing the parts of the body for them and their friends

  • “I’ve never been exposed to Spanish before.”
    You will want to be sure you have the suggested commands chart visible for these students and remember that following the simple commands is a good demonstration of comprehension. They may also be able to count with you.
  • “I know some vocabulary.”
    If children have been exposed to vocabulary previously, they may enjoy adding their own suggestions to the list of commands; for example, they may suggest replacing los pies with la cabeza in the command to touch one’s feet.
  • “I hear Spanish at home.”
    Heritage speakers will enjoy being the capitán directing a whole-class game of Diego dice and/or leading the game within small groups.

Alphabet: A, agua

  • “I’ve never been exposed to Spanish before.”
    New learners will benefit from as much in-depth exposure to comprehensible input related to the sound of A and the vocabulary word agua as you can provide.
  • “I know some vocabulary.”
    Ask students who have had some prior Spanish exposure if they can think of other words that also begin with A.
  • “I hear Spanish at home.”
    In your script of how to introduce A and agua, you are encouraged to involve students by giving a few a small glass of water and talking about how they have un vaso con agua. This is a perfect place to involve heritage learners as participants in the script, because they will be able to answer the question “¿Cuántos vasos de agua tienes?” and provide more input that also includes more variety because you are not the only one speaking.

As these examples show, serving students with varied language abilities can be challenging but is certainly achievable particularly by focusing on two strategies:

  1. What added layers of vocabulary and/or grammar can I ask students of higher ability to include instead of me doing it for them? Most activities can be made more challenging for students of higher ability by adding layers of vocabulary and/or grammar. Try to avoid doing for them what they can do for themselves.
  2. Involving heritage speakers in the input and processing stages, especially in speaking and literacy activities, keeps them engaged and encourages them to develop skills with which they typically struggle.

In your adjustments, keep in mind that your beginning students will need varied repetitions of comprehensible input, and your heritage students need all the reading and writing activities you can provide so they can become and remain literate in their heritage language.

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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