(Louise Emma Potter)
Teaching strategies, background knowledge related to neuroscience and
psychology, language knowledge and awareness, and child development are
just a few of the many contexts language teachers must know how to deal
with on a daily basis in their classrooms. The norm for a public or
private school is to have 50 minutes, twice a week together with a
classroom of 30 multileveled students. To have multileveled students in
your classroom does not necessarily mean that students are only at
different stages in their foreign language acquisition, but they are
also multileveled due to their educational background in their mother
tongue, due to their cultural background, their different expectations
as students, their goals as language learners, their learning styles,
their access to the target language outside the classroom and many other
For this reason, teacher development is a never-ending story. In
order to be in the classroom, we must be passionate about it! There is
so much going on inside and outside the classroom that to ignore the
many other contents beyond the language itself is to fail as a language
teacher. As Prabhu (The dynamics of a classroom-1992) states “The
classroom lesson is an event of several different kinds: It is a unit
in a planned curricular sequence, an instance of a teaching method in
operation, a patterned social activity, and an encounter between human
personalities. Much of what happens in any given classroom represents a
stable routine which best reconciles the varied demands of these
different dimensions for the particular teacher and learners in
question.” So, where do we start? How can we accomplish our goal of teaching in this multileveled environment?
Due to the scenario above, I believe that having the whole class do
exactly the same activity does not work. Some students are what we may
call Below-level, some are At-level and some are Above-level. How can
they possibly accomplish the same objective by the end of the class,
doing the same activities if they were not at the same level at the
beginning of the class? Differentiating our instruction is a must in the
language classroom. The aim of differentiating the instruction is that,
no matter where the student started off at the beginning of the class,
by the end of the class, all the students should have taken at least a
step ahead, in their own level. Students who are below the expected
level do not go beyond tasks that perform thinking on the lower levels:
remembering and understanding. Students who are at the at-level will be
asked to apply and analyse the content, and students who are above level
should be asked to complete tasks in the areas of evaluating and creating.
There are obviously many challenges at first:
• Determining where each of your students are and what they need.
• Organizing appropriate groupings within the class.
• Ensuring that all students are challenged and engaged.
• Organizing the same material for different levels.
• At the beginning, it can be time consuming for the teacher.
But the benefits are amazing:
• Students are able to learn at their own pace.
• We teach students to work collaboratively.
• Students become autonomous learners, which is our ultimate goal.
• Students develop strong relationships with their peers.
• All students are engaged and on task.
As we can see, classroom management skills are extremely necessary if you want to put differentiated instruction into practice.
Here are some simple examples of how you can incorporate
differentiated instruction into your classroom within the different
skills and activities and that do not take up too much time:
Reading and listening
You can use the idea of a flipped classroom: give the students who
are below level the opportunity to listen to the recording or read the
text which you are planning to use in the upcoming lesson at home. This
gives them the opportunity to read or listen to as much as they like.
When working on the text inside the classroom, you may use the
technique of jigsaw reading: divide the reading text into unequal
lengths and difficulty and hand them out to students according to their
level. In multileveled classes, grouping must be very accurate. Student
below level can just answer straight questions, at-level students can
analyse the content and make up questions and the students above level
can evaluate the reading and create a similar one.
Vary the length of the writing (amount of word – 50 / 100/ 150) and
make sure the weaker students have a model to follow. Below level
students should write a paragraph, at-level students maybe 100 words and
above level should write 150 words.
During pair work, after modelling an activity, below level students
are expected to work with only the first part of a conversation whereas
the others should work with the whole conversation. Another idea for a
differentiated speaking activity is having students work in pairs. Hand
out flashcards to the students. The above level student needs to make up
questions (which is generally more difficult than answering) and the
below level student should answer the questions.
Using learning stations
Learning stations aid teachers when you have multileveled students.
Students are on task and working at all times, with different objectives
and outcomes. Read more here.
Students at various levels can contribute to collaborative projects.
The final products can differentiate according to their language level.
I only pinpointed some activities but I strongly encourage you to
read more about differentiating your instruction. There is much more to
it and you will definitely excel in your classroom. I know there is no
right answer and no best method for learning. We each have our own
special way of teaching and learning. That is why we can never stop
studying. Never stop looking out for what others are doing and reflect
upon what we are doing all the time!