There was a time in education when the curricular mindset was “one size fits all.” That was never accurate, and educators have worked diligently to recognize diverse needs. Now we must do the work to effectively differentiate instruction and address those needs in a way that truly creates an inclusive classroom for all.
When we consider multilingual learners, we know just how wide-ranging this diversity can be—linguistically, culturally, socioeconomically, academically, and emotionally. Multilingual learners (MLs) come from hugely expansive linguistic environments containing hundreds of languages—some of which are closer to English (like Spanish) and some of which require a longer bridge into English (like Arabic). Some MLs have been schooled partially in the United States, while others were previously schooled in their home countries. For some students, schooling has included disrupted or limited educational experiences for a variety of reasons (e.g., poverty, politics, mobility, or cultural needs). Home languages, levels of literacy, age, school experiences, and trauma are all variables that impact our students’ development in English. In addition, some MLs are dually identified as gifted learners, or they may have an identified disability. Whatever the case, all students must be afforded scaffolding and challenge to enhance linguistic and cognitive opportunities. Essentially, inclusion means “one size fits one.”
While we recognize this as teachers, it’s really hard to balance all those unique gifts and needs in one classroom! The good news is there are many things you can do to start supporting your MLs today. Here are some ideas:
- Use visual supports like images and illustrations, multimedia resources (including appealing videos and auditory support), and graphic organizers.
- Don’t have students just sit and listen. Incorporate kinesthetic activities in your classroom so they can learn as they perform tasks that require movement, such as handling objects and role-playing.
- Provide opportunities for students to express themselves through the four domains of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Invite them to practice these skills as they act things out, illustrate responses, record answers or conversations, work with peers, write in multiple ways through multiple opportunities, work with vocabulary, and read in varied ways, among other things.
- Remember that, as MLs progress through the stages of language acquisition, the process is not typically linear, not only in terms of language domains, but also in terms of the time spent moving through the levels. Allow room for flexibility, both for your students and for yourself, as you work together to discover the tools and strategies that work best to meet those diverse learning needs.
MLs will undoubtedly benefit from pedagogy that is responsive and motivating as they move from the survival language they need to the content area language they must learn for academic success.
Teachers using effective curriculum like Get Ready! for elementary and Get Ready! for middle and high school will readily find a wide range of valuable strategies to both scaffold and amplify instruction to meet diverse student needs.
Whichever differentiation strategies teachers use, implementing these simultaneously takes patience and practice, as well as purposeful pairing and grouping of students. As you tap into peer power, remember to:
- Take time to consider individuals’ developing proficiency across domains, as well as their unique personalities.
- Assign each student a job within each small group: a leader (someone who naturally organizes and knows how to begin the activity); a follower (one who is still developing receptive language, but can powerfully observe and gather materials), a recorder (who can draw, write, and capture the group work orally or in writing), and an encourager (who can prompt all members to participate and help keep the group running on time).
- Change things up and go into mixed pairings. You may want to pair MLs with students of higher English-language proficiency. Also consider pairing an ML with another ML who shares the same home language, so they may converse and process linguistically first in their native language, then in English—but continue to mix beyond friend groups. Lastly, you may consider pairing an ML with a non-ML near-peer (from a separate classroom, if needed).
- Monitor students’ burgeoning abilities. In addition to self-checks and formative assessments, keep anecdotal records across the domains.
- Adjust teaching, activities, and assignments based on assessment data and observations.
If you’d like to learn more about differentiation strategies, management, and implementation to support ALL your multilingual learners, including SLIFEs, newcomers and gifted students, please click here to join Dr. Jenni Trujillo’s webinar on February 29 at 7pm ET, 4pm PT.
Until then, remember that one size fits one, but together, we meet the needs of all!
By Dr. Jenni Trujillo
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