Differentiationin primary languages.
by Witold Wozniak (MFL Lead Practitioner)
Lesson plans should be straightforward and teachers shouldn't be spending ages on
reinventing the wheel. Yet, at the same time we're expected to make it inclusive and
differentiated. My aim is to demonstrate differentiation can be simple.
Differentiation is more about the way you think and run a ready-to-go lesson. Think of
differentiation as a way of offering choices. For instance, after introducing a new vocabulary
(ex: items of clothing) by saying "look at the board and read it to your partner", you
encourage reading and speaking skills by not stopping your pupils from practising the
language, which may seem difficult or an intimidating experience. For the more able, offer
an option of saying what they've learnt by trying not to look at the board (or having an
emergency glance only). The most confident learners should have their backs turned. This
sort of differentiation by outcome and ability is obvious, yet some primary practitioners
forget about it in panic of teaching a "scary" lesson of French, German or Spanish.
Easy? I hope so!
Let's explore more exciting ways below.
When teaching new words, after displaying it on the IWB (or flashcards), encourage pupils
to write the key words in their draft books (white boards are also an option). It's a good
teaching approach, children visualise the spellings and learn fast by making links between
different phonemes. The more able can try to write simple sentences. Remember to allow
enough time for students to correct their mistakes at the end of the activity. You may also
turn this lively practice into a listening exercise. The task is for children to note what they
have understood. You read the key words in French (you may use a recording/software by
pressing the button and freezing the IWB). The less able can try to write what they've heard
in English only (please note that the correct spelling isn't the main focus, it's rather the
ability to recognise words), more able in French, the most able in both English and French.
If you expect pupils to produce some written work at the end of the lesson, apply the
following strategy. Display the key words and ask the able students to produce simple
sentences (ex: j'ai une gomme), the more able should be encouraged to use a connective
and extend their statements (ex: j'ai une gomme et un cahier). As for the less able, offer an
alternative of creating a mini-dictionary by copying and illustrating at least 3 words they've
learnt. If some of your low ability students struggle with writing, encourage them to use
flashcards and test their partner (asking a French speaker or a stronger student to assist you
is always a good, differentiated idea).
Also, an occasional revision or self-assessment lesson is good base for differentiation. Expect
most children to draw pictures of objects they know how to name and encourage to label
them (remember about displaying flashcards, pp or other aids). Expect a minimum of 5
words (or pictures only) from the less able, 10 or more from most students. The most able
though should be encouraged to work independently with flashcards, dictionaries and notes
and produce a high quality resumé of the key words from the last unit. Dividing them into
masculine or feminine could be a further challenge.
Whenever it's a short teaching, revision or self-assessment session, there's always scope for
making differentiation count. When introducing new words, give a number of words you
expect some pupils to be able to recognise only. Most students should be able to recognise
and repeat (the most able also in writing), with or without prompts accordingly. Some
teachers display their differentiated options at the beginning of the lesson, these more
familiar with different techniques mention a variety of choices during a practice time.
If you have any EAL speakers, remember that every MFL session brings them to the same
level as the rest of the class! At the same time, it's your chance to teach English to a group
of pupils who struggle. By providing them with a photocopied list of words in both
languages, you make sure they understand their meaning, discover the way different words
are read, and by looking at a selection of visual prompts, they're able to take simple notes
by drawing pictures for expressing meanings. Why not extend this activity and ask them to
rewrite each English translation 5 times? It's a great spelling and handwriting exercise.
Alternatively, handing out a worksheet with pictures and key words photocopied will give
confidence to children who find it difficult to learn by listening only. Sometimes visualising
the spelling makes a big difference.
For any SEN students, I'd recommend the use of puppets. It takes attention away from
having to speak in a different language. It also involves pupils and improves their intonation.
The less able students can become great assistants at expressing the meaning of new words
and expressions or repeating them after you. Invite them to be teacher's assistant for
kinaesthetic demonstrations. It's inclusive, fun and occasionally very entertaining too!
If you happen to have any native speakers in your class, you need to acknowledge a few
important facts. Native speakers assume they speak well because they can easily
understand what's being taught in class. Yet, very few children's sentences will be correct
(especially in writing). The most common mistake is to say "je suis huit ans" which translates
"I'm 8 years old" (please note in French you say "j'ai huit ans" because you "have 8 years").
You must therefore apply a policy of limited trust and try to rely on the teaching materials
instead. Native speakers can echo or model things, assist the less able occasionally, but
mostly try to provide them with more advanced materials (if unable to assist or mark it,
involve the parents and ask them to look into pupil's work regularly). Reading in the target
language is another option for the more able native speakers. After reading a book they can
make a list of unknown words (create a mini dictionary) or translate some sentences.
Remember though to let them join the fun activities occasionally, so they don't feel
victimised by their extensive knowledge.
Self-differentiation is another option. By occasionally offering independent choices, you
make students aware of what they can or can't achieve by giving them freedom to decide.
Encourage pupils to rate the difficulty of what they're doing (ex: one to five stars). Ask the
following questions: how could you improve it? (Ex: spelling, amount of work, presentation),
Can you add anything else? (Ex: more words, connectives, other verbs). Have you checked
your spelling? Give your students a few minutes to write down why they give themselves x
many stars, and how they could make it more advanced next time.
Self-differentiation is closely linked to self-targeting. Whichever systemyou use (NQ levels,
points, starts) invite pupils to self-assess their work and say what level (or other) they think
they deserve. It displays students' expectations, understanding of the systemin place, their
ambitions. Your final comment confirms or explain why you agree or disagree with the
statement. For instance: ' I think you deserve 3A. To achieve L4 you must check your spelling
and use a connective (et)' Without too much input from your side, the students are more
likely to challenge themselves and produce a piece of work worth their ability.
The most obvious way of catering for different abilities is to offer an extension activity. This
can be done without reinventing the wheel. Very often on language worksheets there're 2
or 3 activities per page (ex: match the words to the pictures, jumbled words, word search).
Make it clear everyone MUST complete at least one task (clarify which one is the most
important one), most students SHOULD complete it two; some pupils COULD complete it all.
Keep it short and pacey. In case, some children are super-fast, allow them to become your
assistants and share their knowledge with these who are less confident. Differentiation will
be all happening for you and you will be teaching languages happily ever after!
Witold Wozniak (email: email@example.com)
Any suggestions or ideas? Feel free to share it.
Children predicting their level.
Setting clear, differentiated expectations at the beginning of each session.
Self-differentiation by outcome. An example of simple and complex sentences.
Differentiated ‘I can do’ statement in Year 3.