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Differentiation is a Must

One of the biggest challenges for elementary Spanish teachers is differentiating for students that have vastly different levels of comprehension and speaking skills. How do we address this issue, and what are some practical techniques that we can use in the classroom to differentiate?

It’s worth noting that it is very common, in all types of elementary Spanish programs, for kids to have varying degrees of Spanish skills. Some children are more linguistically intelligent than others. Some may have had more Spanish instruction than others. Some may be new to a class and not had any prior Spanish instruction at all. The point is that differentiation is something that we must do in all our classes. With this realization in mind, we can plan for differentiation and implement some simple strategies during instruction.

Strategy #1: Remember that repetition is beneficial for everyone. An effective way to help students develop their skills is through repetition. The concern is that if we are doing lots of repetition for students who are less advanced, is this valuable time for students who are more advanced? The answer is that it most definitely is. Higher level students will benefit from repetition just as lower level students do. There is no such thing as too much repetition for any student. This is why repetition is such a huge part of the design of the Sonrisas Spanish Curriculum.

Strategy #2: Insure comprehensible input for less advanced students. The easiest and most natural way to do this is through movement and gesture. This is the Total Physical Response (TPR) approach. Most beginner level Spanish can be acted out, and most young children are very good at comprehending physical movement and using it as a learning tool. You can also use illustrations in books and posters to give comprehensible input to students. And as a last resort, you can simply write vocabulary on the board with its English translation.

Strategy #3: Differentiate how you speak to students. You can change the pace of your speech and the vocabulary you use depending on the level of your student. We all know that “classroom Spanish” does not really reflect the pace of speech that one might hear in a native environment. This is necessary with beginner students—you must speak slowly and use lots of gesture to insure comprehensible input. With advanced students, you can approximate a more realistic rate of speech, and you can use more complex vocabulary. You still want to insure comprehensible input, but you can begin to challenge their comprehension by speaking more fluently.

Strategy #4: Use more advanced students as peer teachers. Students learn very effectively from their peers. Young learners are experts at imitating their peers. You can use higher level students as examples for others. Task them with taking the teacher’s role by leading an activity or by asking repetitive questions in Circle Time. You can pair more advanced students with less advanced students in role play or interpersonal activities. If you are doing an activity that requires students to speak, address the more advanced students first so that they provide a model for others.

Strategy #5: Spend some time with beginner students. During Art Time or while students are working on a portfolio activity, take the time to engage beginner level students one-on-one. Provide lots of comprehensible input to them, speak slowly with them, use lots of repetitive language, and most important, encourage and praise them for every interaction whether it is comprehending your Spanish or speaking.

We would love to hear from you about how you differentiate in your classes. Let us know in the comment section below.

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