“Handling multiple proficiency and literacy levels in the same classroom”
from October 4, 2017
On October 4, language teachers from grades K-8, and beyond, met for the biweekly #EarlyLang chat. Participants discussed the proficiency levels in their classes, how to teach with multiple proficiency levels in one class, and offered suggestions on how to get students with little or no experience in the TL (target language) involved and participating.
Q1: What is the range of proficiency levels in your classes?
Most teachers have students grouped by age, leading to more than one proficiency level per class. This is a definite challenge once students reach middle school, but is not necessarily easier in elementary school. In the lower grades, most students range from Novice Low (NL) to Intermediate Mid (IM) as assessed by the ACTFL Assessment of Performance towards Proficiency in Languages (AAPPL). @doriecp said that even native speakers do not perform above the intermediate level as they are not ready developmentally. For those few who have classes based on proficiency, they are primarily at the novice level for early years. @windycitysenora reported that students stay at the novice level for a long time because of where they are developmentally and the shorter, less frequent classes.
Q2: Do you see any benefits to having multiple proficiency levels in the same class?
As with anything in education or life, there are pros and cons to mixed proficiency levels. Some of the advantages are that native speakers or those with higher proficiency levels can be used as models for the rest of the class, they can help other students, and assist as peer helpers. @Courtneysclase said, “I usually have my native speakers help me with tasks and that’s how others learn “apaga la luz” or other things.”
Native speakers can give input to other students; as many of us have experienced, students often listen better to other students.
Q3: How do you welcome a student who has minimal or no previous TL (Target Language)?
The group consensus was that student personality has a role to play. Some students are able to jump right in and feel comfortable with uncertainty, others need more assurance and support. Some suggestions from the participants:
- One suggestion was thematic units that recycle old material, the theme is new for everyone and it also provides an opportunity to review for those who need it.
- Pairing the new student with a buddy, celebrating successes, or using a simple gesture to indicate comprehension can all help the new students feel more confident and therefore open to learning.
- @PreKlanguages mentioned that providing too much explanation can cause them to be insecure; it is better to speak the TL and let them see how much they can actually understand. They will quickly adapt once they realize they can follow along with the rest of the class.
Q4: What challenges do you face with your mixed proficiency classes?
One of the main challenges is that of time. A number of teachers mentioned that they have only 25 or 30 minute classes in which to reach all of their students. Smaller class sizes can help, but younger students get distracted easily and may have difficulty waiting for the teacher to help them. Several teachers discussed students with IEPs, who are still working on proficiency in English; it can be challenging to meet other needs, too—504 plans, interventions, behavior plans. Modifying texts for multiple levels within a class is yet another challenge. @MundodePepita summed it up, “Variety of needs is the biggest challenge, in a short amount of time, & wild & wacky behaviors thrown into the mix.” In short, it is a daunting task, with many challenges depending a lot on the age of the students and the time given for classes.
Q5: How do you address the challenges of your mixed proficiency classes?
Two words: Comprehensible Input. Teachers have to meet students where they are, provide instruction that they can understand, and give feedback to help students gain confidence and proficiency. Other suggestions included visual supports for assignments, spiraling the curriculum to recycle content and provide reinforcement/review, and use of common vocabulary important to the unit of study. Finally, some teachers recommended using mixed-ability partners/groups and providing opportunities for independent work while working with students who need extra help.
Reflaction (reflection + action)
Many participants discussed the need to better assess individual proficiency levels of their students. There were plans to implement centers more often, to find ways to facilitate interaction between students, and to use TL with all students. Several teachers mentioned best practices for students with IEPs as well as finding workshops that address meeting diverse needs, whether those are aimed at FL or gen ed. Once again, the chat provided many opportunities to learn from our colleagues and consider new ways to improve our practice.
Thank you to all who participated in this #EarlyLang! Thank you to our lead moderator, Nathan Lutz @(nathanlutz) for leading the chat and to our co-moderator Julie Speno (@mundodepepita) for helping guide the conversation. Thank you also to EMC School (@EMCSCHOOL) for sponsoring tonight’s chat and to @SECottrell for making the question cards for the evening. The next chat is October 18, 2017 at 8 pm EST. Hope to see you there.
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