My grandmother used to tell me stories of her elementary school days spent in a one-room schoolhouse in rural Pennsylvania. Those one-room schoolteachers were pretty amazing juggling all those classes from first to eighth grade. How did they manage to maintain order in the class and of course keep their own mind in order? As Spanish teachers, we may have a taste of that environment as we deal with multiple ability levels in our classes. How do we deal with absolute beginners, heritage speakers, and native speakers in the same class? What kind of juggling act will we have to do to keep everyone appropriately challenged and our classroom well-managed? What would Miss Beadle do? (Remember her from Little House on the Prairie?)
Take advantage of the great resources that heritage and native speakers can be. They can provide real-life experience when you’re discussing culture or the rich variations of the Spanish language. Have these students be a major participant in these parts of your lessons touching on customs, foods, songs, or games. These are opportunities for them to proudly show off their families’ home cultures. It’s a great way to engage the class in cultural comparisons and may be more meaningful to those adolescent students since it’s coming from a peer rather than the Teacher.
Heritage and native speakers can also be great “study buddies” for your novice learners. Pair them with students who are struggling or shy. I’ve done this a lot throughout my 20 years in the classroom, and it’s been a terrific experience for everyone involved. It’s a non-threatening way for those students to get some extra help and feel comfortable working with the language in a more private setting. It’s an esteem boost for your more advanced students, too. Their buddy’s success makes them look good, too! One caveat: pair carefully, make sure the personalities are going to mesh not clash.
Ok, so the more advanced students can be a great asset, but what can we do for them to keep them challenged rather than feel like babysitters or show-and-tell items? Their skills need to continue developing and there is disparity in those skills. Some may be bilingual but have poor reading and writing skills. Some may have poor grammar skills whether they’re speaking or writing. This is where you need to do some kind of assessment, informally, to locate where their weaknesses are.
Don’t be afraid to challenge them to produce more. Provide them with rubrics pinpointing where their work is going to involve more than the novice students’ work. You may look for things like use of transition words, correct use of tenses, introductory and concluding paragraphs, for example.
Provide more appropriate texts for them to work with. Go to that treasure chest of Spanish literature. For your more advanced students have them work with some of the great poets in Spanish, not just as a pronunciation or fluency activity, but as something to study. Go as deep as you like or think they can handle. I chose some Machado poems that really could resonate with my high school students. It turned out that my native speakers weren’t familiar with his poems, but really enjoyed working with them. That’s always a bonus.
While it IS a challenge to accommodate so many different levels of ability, it can be done without too much extra work on your part and without your more advanced students feeling punished for the Spanish skills they already have.
What do you do to channel your one-room schoolteacher? How do you deal with absolute beginners, heritage speakers, and native speakers in the same class?