Differentiating for and Anticipating Student Needs

In language acquisition, as with all other subjects, a teacher who can masterfully and seamlessly weave scaffolding and differentiation into their classes will be a successful one. While there are criticisms of the time-cost benefit of delivering such practices, my experience supports a different story – one where students are empowered to participate, and self-driven to show that language deficiency is not the same as a cognitive impairment.

Research shows that students will rise to a challenge if they feel they have the capacity to complete it (Marzano, 2007). As such, I believe it falls on teachers to provide the means for students to demonstrate their individual capacities to the fullest extent. I furthermore believe that reasons such as “not having enough time”, or “students should learn to adapt to the teaching style of the teacher”, are a step short of excuses and hold no ground, for the teacher’s style doesn’t change regardless of the activities being implemented in the classroom; as for the former, differentiating is a practice that any teacher can incorporate into their planning, and the ones who invest more time in doing so will quickly and efficiently be able to do so with practice.

There are several groups of students who directly benefit from differentiated instruction. These could range, as stated above, from students having a cognitive impairment to students who have language deficiencies. In my language acquisition lessons, I am frequently challenged with having students in different phases of the acquisition spectrum. This means that I could have students who are barely entering the early production phase (able to answer yes/no questions) alongside students who are in the intermediate fluency phase (able to build complex sentences and infer meaning from texts). Regardless of their differing levels, the standards and objectives set forth are the same, and I am expected to create opportunities for students to reach them.

After differentiating and delivering lessons, I need to formatively assess students. If, for example, I give a reading assessment and one or more students cannot complete it, I will need to re-evaluate the scaffolding I gave those students. At my school, I am not allowed to modify assessments unless students have an IEP, and should students have one, they are in the care of a SEN specialist who is qualified to teach them. Still, having a large gap between students’ understanding of the language can be quite the challenge. In these cases, I will look at the 4 ways to differentiate instruction and choose the most appropriate one to start (Weselby, 2014).

For example, if I planned to give a summative reading assessment in which I asked the students to create written responses based on a text, I would want to start differentiating my lessons from the start to allow students to access Bloom’s lower levels of remembering and understanding (Armstrong, 2017). I could do this by differentiating for content and have students match vocabulary terms to definitions. If this kind of formative assessment didn’t work, I could further scaffold it by adding pictures to the terms to give students the visual of the term. This way, the goal is unchanged (thus unmodified), and allows the student to access a broader range of knowledge to help them accomplish the task.

If I differentiated for product and they still fell short, I might consider going back and choosing a different method of instruction, such as a graphic organizer, or I would consider a different area of differentiation altogether. If the latter were the case, I could differentiate for environment and allow students to work in small groups as opposed to individually, or vice versa.

One resource students can use in learning vocabulary is a mind map. This allows for students to include images, text, and other forms of media to map all known connections to a term. Another resource I could use is flashcards. Although seemingly trite, many students still respond positively to them when used in connection to an activity (as opposed to just learning a random list of words out of context). Lastly, a third resource to use would be video. Brainpop and other educational websites have mountains of resources in the form of animations that allow students to see vocabulary words in context with what they are learning.

To support this idea visually, below is a flowchart demonstrating the path taken.



Image borrowed from http://nkces.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Differentiation-3.png

Armstrong, P. (2017). Bloom’s Taxonomy. Vanderbilt University. Retrieved from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/

BrainPOP. (2017). Brainpop.com. Retrieved from https://www.brainpop.com/

Marzano, R. (2007). The art and science of teaching : a comprehensive framework for effective instruction (1st ed.). Alexandria: ASCD.

Weselby, C. (2014). What is Differentiated Instruction? Examples of Strategies. Education.cu-portland.edu. Retrieved from http://education.cu-portland.edu/blog/teaching-strategies/examples-of-differentiated-instruction/


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