Making the Shift: Planning for Student Variability

Denise Broda, OFLA Scholarship Chair
Wooster City Schools

One size does not fit all. Several years ago, I attended a workshop on differentiation at the OFLA Conference in Cleveland that was the catalyst for my paradigm shift on how I plan and what my classroom looks like. The presenter was Deborah Blaz, one of the pioneers and authorities on differentiation in the world language classroom, and I had my “ah-ha moment” during that evening. I was excited to try some of her activities with my students, so I purchased her book, gathered all the handouts and notes I took during the workshop, and began my journey into the world of planning for student choice.
Fast forward a few years. In Ohio, we have adopted new standards that focus on communicative and cultural proficiencies, we plan using backward design and authentic resources as much as possible, and we assess our students with performance assessments. This school year, I signed up for a professional development course on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) that my district offered, and guess what? In a nutshell, UDL is backward design with lots of activities that offer students choices in how they learn, practice, and are assessed. Backward design? Thank you ACTFL, ODE, OFLA, and all other organizations for giving us a head start. Student variability, differentiation, and choice? Thank you OFLA and Deborah Blaz for the head start there, too.
I am in no way an expert on student choice, and just as I made mistakes adopting authentic resources and IPAs (“glossing,” for example), I have had some trial and error. But, I am seeing incredible results in my students’ engagement with the language and especially in their growth in all areas of communicative and cultural proficiency. Based on my journey, here are my observations / suggestions for anyone implementing student choice:
1. ALWAYS start with standards-based performance assessments. Whether you create your own with authentic resources (hoo-ray!), modify textbook assessments, or use the assessments that come with your textbook program, you need to know what the students will be able to do before you can plan their practice activities.
2. Provide students with I-Can Statements throughout the unit. My students have learned not to ask me for study guides or review packets anymore because they know that I let them know what they will be able to do at the beginning, throughout, and at the end of a unit. Those checklists help them understand the purpose behind the activities on their choice boards or choice lists.
3. Vary the activities based on the skill(s) and unit. For example, for a unit on food and ordering in a restaurant, I created a choice board for the vocabulary, a different choice board for writing and speaking practice, and another one for listening and reading. The activities ranged from writing on Padlet, creating a comic, doing EdPuzzles, creating collages, speaking on Flipgrid, reading authentic sources, and a lot of other very different choices.
4. Provide a combination of basic (easy) and stretch activities so that all of the students can practice without getting frustrated and giving up. Make sure that they all have to have some sort of challenge/stretch activities so that they stay engaged and improve, though.
5. Don’t be afraid to step back and give up some control. I still instruct and provide comprehensible input, but I also know that the students can remain in the target language the entire class period without me. That is to say, I am there to facilitate and help, but I do not have to be” running the show” every day.
6. Collect feedback. EdPuzzle provides data on the students’ performance that I can analyze and save to show administrators, and student feedback can be anything from polls to written reactions on whether the activities helped prepare them for their performance assessments. Of course, the best feedback is the way students score on their assessment rubrics.
One size does not fit all. Planning for student variability and giving them choices and ownership in how they learn and practice have made a big difference in my students’ engagement and performance. Thank you to everyone who lead the charge and paved the path!

This entry was posted in Uncategorized, Winter 2018. Bookmark the permalink.

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