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Diverse Learners, Differentiated Instruction

 

In a 21st century language classroom, traditional grammar-based language teaching has been deemed less effective when accounting for various learners’ needs. Creating a diverse learning environment is important when helping a group of diverse learners develop their 21st century skills. Teachers need to meet the needs of diverse learners by recognizing their varying background knowledge, readiness, language, learning styles, and interests. Differentiated instruction provides pathways for teachers to react responsively to diverse learner set and maximize learning opportunities. What is differentiated instruction? Why should Chinese teachers use differentiated instruction in their classrooms? How do you utilize technology to differentiate instruction in modern Chinese language classrooms?

What is Differentiated Instruction?

Differentiated instruction is a process to approach teaching and learning for students of differing abilities in the same class (Tomlinson & Allan, 2000). Based on Vygotsky’s theoretical frameworks of Sociocultural Theory of Learning and the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), differentiated instruction is an innovative way of thinking about teaching and learning by taking full advantage of every student’s ability to learn (Subban, 2006).

Why use Differentiated Instruction? Why Chinese teachers need differentiated instruction?

The purpose of differentiating instruction is to maximize each student’s growth potential and individual success by meeting each student where he or she is, and assisting in the learning process (Tomlinson & Allan, 2000). In short, Differentiated Instruction:

1) Addresses differences among a set of diverse learners

2) Engages students in the classroom

3) Supports different learning styles (e.g. audio, kinesthetic, visual, etc.)

4) Develops multiple intelligences

5) Gains 21st century skills

In a Chinese language classroom, students have various linguistic backgrounds with different language proficiency levels. Some students come from a Chinese-speaking family where they can get Chinese language exposure from both parents. However, some students get partial exposure of Chinese from one parent, or get no exposure of Chinese at home. The context outside language classroom could be limited for students to use the target language for practice or engage in conversations, resulting in different learners with diverse backgrounds. Thus, Chinese teachers need to use differentiated instruction in their classrooms to accommodate diverse learners and meet diverse needs.

Responding to the needs of differentiated instruction

As we can see in the following chart, teachers need to consider the content, process, and product while using differentiated instruction in response to different students’ interests, readiness of learning, and learning profiles.

However, more aspects need to be considered in the employment of differentiated instruction. Teachers need to incorporate state and local standards in their curriculum. To understand students’ needs, teachers can use pre-assessments to evaluate students’ language proficiency level and prior knowledge. These are important steps that can guide teachers in planning their lessons, deciding which teaching methods to use, and designing assessments.

How do you utilize technology to differentiate instruction in modern Chinese language classrooms?

In modern classrooms, technology serves as an important tool for teachers undertaking differentiated instruction.  Flipped learning emerges as a new pedagogical approach which attends to individual differences. As is demonstrated by its literary meaning, the process of learning/ knowledge input is flipped from the classroom to home. Students learn by watching a pre-recorded video from the teacher at home and come back to the classroom with questions and more opportunities for practice. As you can see in the picture below, there are different stations/ learning centers in the classroom where students are able to move from one station to another according to their needs of learning. If it is a Chinese language classroom, teachers can create stations according to ACTFL’s three modes of communication, including “interpretive”, “interpersonal”, and “presentational”. For example, in an interpersonal station, students are able to do communicative practices including role-plays, discussions, or interviews. Other stations can also be created in service for different students’ needs such as “computer station (where students can research online for their projects)”, “product presentation station”, “video station (for students who did not watch the video)”, etc.

In your classroom, how do you address the needs of your learners? How do you differentiate your instruction? What methods have you used for differentiated instruction?

References

Subban, P. (2006). Differentiated instruction: A research basis. International Education Journal, (7), 935-947.

Tomlinson, C.A., & Allan, S. D. (2000). Leadership for differentiating schools and classrooms. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Fan Sun

Fan Sun

Fan Sun is the Teacher Training Specialist at Better Chinese. She graduated from the TESOL program at University of Pennsylvania. Having worked as an ESL teacher as well as a Mandarin teacher in Philadelphia schools and non-profit organizations, she has developed great passion and interest in curriculum development and teacher education.

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