Dr. Baros is a dedicated researcher, educator, and LGBTQ advocate. Her areas of expertise are proficiency-based language teaching and creating inclusive environments for LGBTQ students and people.
I'm on round three of adjusting my curriculum for my "Advanced Spanish" classes. I have fifteen students in this class. Some are students that started Spanish I with me in my first year teaching, continued with me to Spanish IIH, and now have me for their third year in Spanish IIIH (I have to admit I feel a bit flattered that students would voluntarily choose to stick with me that long). One student is a Spanish IV AP student who I had for the first time last year. Others took Spanish I and IIH at various times with other teachers and have landed in my class with varying degrees of proficiency. Three of my students are Heritage speakers, one of which is an 8th grader who was in my Beginning (Middle School) Spanish class last year and I encouraged her to take a placement exam so that she could go straight to Spanish IIIH this year. My highest studentcan read, write, speak, and comprehend Spanish as well as, if not better, than me. My lowest student struggles to comprehend TPRS-style stories and formulate complete sentences. And, yet, I must meet the needs of ALL of my students.
In other words, this year is going to be a crash course in differentiation.
This week, I switched my approach for the third time, and it's the approach I'm most happy with. During the first two or three weeks, I tried to stick with the AP curriculum. However, as hard as my students tried, it felt like all of us were swimming against the current and simply beating ourselves up. So, I told them to scratch that, and let's start fresh. Some students were briefly frustrated that the projects they'd started wouldn't count, but they were happy to go along with the new curriculum when I suggested we could go back to the old one so that their assignments would still count (love and logic!). The new curriculum was an adaptation of Jalen Waltman's complete lesson plans for Spanish III. I used her lesson plans at the end of last year and LOVED them, so I was back in my comfort zone. I also incorporated a discussion piece (the students call this "Circle Day"), where we all sat in a circle with just our chairs and I started the day with a "Pregunta del Día", usually from the Waltman lesson plans. From there, each student was expected to contribute to the discussion at least two times (I marked this in my grade book) and we simply talked! Used once or twice per week, these worked really well and students got some really great experience with authentic and organic conversations completely in Spanish! The desks removed the physical barriers to conversation and forced students to participate since they were all present in the circle. Now, the students usually ask as they walk in "Is it a circle day?".
Unfortunately, though, this curriculum proved too easy for my Heritage speakers. It is more focused on fluency, and these students need to start interacting with the texts and discussions at a higher level (they've been happy to play along thus far though!). So, I adjusted my curriculum a third time, and I think I've finally found the right balance. In an effort to move my students toward tasks that they will eventually see on the AP exam, I am using the Tejidos textbook which focuses on the AP Themes in a highly structured way. Many of the tasks can be adapted for my lower students, while some are most appropriate for my AP/Heritage students. Thus, sometimes my students are all working on the same activities while at other times they are almost literally two different classes. While AP/Heritage students are tackling more difficult tasks, I supplement the curriculum with fluency-based activities from Waltman's lesson plans for the rest of the class. Luckily, thanks to Kagan, I can structure these activities so that my primary role is facilitation. I can move in between groups and assist them where necessary while they continue learning whether or not I'm there. For example, this week we are focusing on the structure of Hispanic families. All students completed objectives related to the families and built their cultural knowledge. We are halfway through this mini-unit (called an "Hilo" or "Thread" in Tejidos), but here's how we tackled the first three days (and were quite successful!):
Day 1: Write an email describing your family. (All students completed all activities - my AP/Heritage students sit together in a group to facilitate a faster-paced and more complicated discussion according to their level. The remaining students are seated in Kagan cooperative learning groups of varying levels to assist one another and help them grow).
Overall, I was very happy with how effectively students worked throughout the class period, the quality of conversations they engaged in, the cultural ideas they explored, and the products they created with their learning. Moreover, all students felt that the activities were appropriate for their levels - they were challenged, but felt capable of completing the activities. I'm excited to see how this unit and structure continues to develop!
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