4. Teaching Spanish in the U.S.

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Current approaches to foreign language teaching can be characterized as one-size-fits-all. This is true in the sense that within a given class or instructional level, uniform learning objectives, activities, pacing, and assessment tools are in place for all students. Such approach is not well suited to teaching Spanish to bilingual Latinos who present divergent academic and linguistic backgrounds. Needed for such students is a means to configure Spanish-language instruction along individual learner specifications. An overview of Latino demographics indicates that bilingual Latinos study Spanish in different instructional contexts, depending on where they go to school. Typically, those attending schools with a sizable Latino population study the language in specialized Spanish-for-native-speakers (SNS) classes. Others study in classes with non-native students. Regardless of the type of the class, when bilingual Latino students are enrolled in Spanish-language courses, learning inevitably takes place in the context of a mixed-ability language classroom. Demographic realities being what they are, such classrooms may be on the way to becoming the norm, rather than the exception in Spanish-language programs throughout the country. Predicated on the notion that teaching should be responsive to student differences and reach out to learners at their own level of readiness, Differentiated Teaching (Tomlinson 1999, 2003) is designed to deal with the very type of mixed-ability issues that arise when teaching Spanish to bilingual Latinos. Additionally, this approach represents an effective way to address issues of equity and access to learning – key considerations when dealing with Latino students. Following Tomlinson's work, this paper explores five instructional strategies that support instruction in mixed-ability classes, including: (1) stations; (2) centers; (3) agendas; (4) learning contracts; and (5) multiple-entry journals/reading logs. In addition, it presents samples of differentiated activities for use in mixed-ability Spanish classes.


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