We all know that a one-size-fits-all approach towards a language lesson isn’t what our students expect. And they’re right. Each person contributes to lessons in a different way by sharing their knowledge, experiences and motivation. We should observe our learners to identify their strengths and areas for improvement and once it’s done, we can put into practice a range of differentiation strategies. If you have just started racking your brains trying to remember what differentiation is all about, here’s a little hint: it’s all about designing and delivering lessons factoring in a variety of learning styles and needs. How do we do that? Keep reading to find out!
Who said that by the end of the lesson ALL students will have done this or that? It might happen there’ll be students who feel quite confident with what we present, those who have a vague idea and those who have no clue. Still, all of them should take away something from our lesson. We can use HOT questions (cool name, isn’t it?!) to stimulate and engage our learners. HOT stands for Higher Order Thinking skills and HOT questions are linked to the Bloom’s Taxonomy – they check remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating. If the students aren’t familiar with the topic we would use questions that check eg. remembering and understanding and those who feel already confident would be asked to eg. evaluate or create something. They all work with the same content but approach it from different angles.
* If you’re a student you can also use HOT questions! When talking to your partners, go the extra mile and instead of just asking: Do you like this photo? You can ask: What do you think had happened before this photo was taken?
How about giving our students some more leeway in terms of choosing what they want their homework to look like? Assigning workbook exercises has its obvious pros but unfortunately, it doesn’t cater to various learning styles, needs and interests. Just an example: imagine you’ve been discussing different uses of the present perfect tense (favourite topic for both teachers and students, isn’t it? :)). Now it’s time for homework and you’ve got quite a few options!
- do exercises in a workbook (yes, it’s still on the table)
- watch your favourite film and note down examples of the present perfect sentences and the context in which they were used (the same can be done with a favourite book)
- translate a dialogue you had with a friend paying attention to the correct use of the perfect aspect
- (any other ideas your students might have!)
This way you not only allow for learners’ autonomy but also give your students a chance to tap into their interests.
* It’s good to know what type of a learning style you prefer if you’re a student. This way you’ll know in what ways (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic) you learn best and you’ll be able to adapt your learning habits. While learning (and doing homework) make sure you personalise the new language. Thanks to that you’ll remember things easier.
3. SEN students
While incorporating differentiation we cannot forget about our students who have special needs. This might mean preparing special copies of reading tasks for dyslexic students (double-spaced lines, less contrast between paper and letters) and/ or having extra tasks up your sleeve for gifted quick finishers. By the way, such activities don’t need to be language oriented, they may as well develop learners’ emotional and social skills!
As you can see, differentiation makes our lessons multidimensional, it gives the learners a sense of achievement and makes them valued as individuals. To put it another way, it’s worth it!
And what strategies do you use in your classroom?