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 factors.
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. (read more about this at http://teaching.uncc.edu/learning-resources/articles-books/best-practice/goals-objectives/blooms-educational-objectives)
There are obviously many challenges at first:
But the benefits are amazing:
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 objective 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!