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Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: Workshop

Valuing Diversity in Learners Assignments + Projects

Examine the Topic


Now that you have read the research and viewed the video discussion on working with diverse learners, you will examine the topic further by looking at ways to address the needs of different types of learners that you may have in your class.

A. Strategies for Working With Diverse Learners

In the following interactive activity, you will have the opportunity to read about four categories of learners that may be part of a typical foreign language classroom: heritage language learners, students with learning disabilities, students with different learning styles, and students in different levels. For each category of learners, you will do the following:

  • Read a summary of the issues related to working with this type of learner.
  • Read reflections from a teacher or a group of teachers about how they have accommodated this type of learner in their classrooms.
  • Read about a particular learning scenario for each type of learner and describe the strategies you might use to address the scenario. Print out your strategies to submit as part of your assignment. You will also have the opportunity to read how other teachers have responded to this scenario.

B. Reflect on the Activity

After comparing the sample answers with your strategies for working with diverse learners, reflect on the following questions:

  1. How might you gather information on the students in your class so that you are able to address their diverse needs?
  1. Consider the needs of the different types of learners that you explored in the interactive activity. Which kinds of learners are you currently most comfortable accommodating? Which kinds of learners pose the greatest challenge to you? How might you begin to research ways to accommodate these learners’ needs to meet that challenge?


Print out your strategies for working with the four categories of learners and write a brief summary of what you learned from this activity to submit as an assignment.

Put It Into Practice: Activity A

In this section, you will apply what you have learned to your own teaching. The following activities are designed to assist you in developing resources for working with multilevel classes or with Individualized Education Programs for students with special needs. Choose one or both of the activities from the list below.

Activity A: Grouping Students in Multilevel Classes

Multilevel classes are often a response to low enrollment. Teachers may have two adjacent levels, such as Level III and Level IV, or more divergent ones, such as Level I and Level IV. Multilevel classes involve differing goals, objectives, and expectations for proficiency and other learning outcomes for students at different levels. Making decisions about when to group, how to group, and when to bring the whole class together is critical to successfully teaching in this environment.

One approach is to use themes. This allows teachers to design activities that align and challenge both groups. In this activity, you will begin to plan a unit for a multilevel class, focusing on strategies for group and whole-class instruction. You can use the Grouping Multilevel Classes(PDF, 54 K) form.

  1. List the levels in your class. You can focus on a class that you are currently teaching, a class that you have taught in the past, or consider a hypothetical class.
  1. Identify a theme that you would like to use with all of the levels. For example, you could focus on life in the city, suburbs, and country in your region or in a country in which your target language is spoken. Keep in mind that almost any theme can be spiraled. Spiraling provides an opportunity for students to extend their knowledge on a subject as they advance in their language study. For example, weather is a typical theme in beginning courses. Students often learn basic expressions, such as “it is warm” and “it is raining.” When students go on to the next level course, they might access a Web site and read weather reports — a task that gives them the opportunity to learn more sophisticated language on this topic. But if students in the advanced course move on to environmental issues, such as rain forest preservation, without learning language that goes beyond basic statements about or descriptions of the weather, they may have difficulty.
  1. Draft the communicative outcomes for students in each level. The following is an example using the theme of life in the city, suburbs, and country:
    • Level I: Students brainstorm a list of features of life in the city, suburbs, and country. Students also express their preferences for 1) where they want to live now, and 2) where they want to live when they are adults, and give reasons why.
    • Level II: Students read about a major city and a small town or rural village in a country where the target language is spoken. They use what they learn to decide on a place to stay for three months.
    • Level III: Students interpret a literary text or film that explores the theme of city versus country life, and they discuss what life was like in each of these places during a given era. (For example, students might read excerpts from Madame Bovary or view scenes from the movie that relate to her trip into the city and her view of life in the city versus life as a country doctor’s spouse.)
  1. Draft the cultural and/or content outcomes for students in each level. For example:
    • Level I: Students acquire terminology for city and country attractions and compare the two areas (social studies connection).
    • Level II: Students acquire information about the geography, historical settings, cultural events, and recreational attractions in a city and village in a target country.
    • Level III: Students acquire information about life in rural and urban areas and gender roles during specific historical time periods. They also address common human characteristics and frailties.
  1. Sketch out activities that you could do with each level. Try to identify activities that you could do as a class, in multilevel groups, and in single-level groups. Use the following questions to guide you:
    • What sources/materials can you use with differentiated tasks? (For example, in Level I, students could make a sketch of a home based on its description in a real estate ad. In Level II, students might read the ad and develop a series of questions to ask the realtor. In Level III, students could develop a Web site for the seller that further elaborates on the description of the home.)
    • In which part of the lesson should students at different levels work on common tasks? What kinds of materials are appropriate for each group, in terms of both the task and that group’s proficiency level? (For example, students in all levels might engage in a common interpretive task to learn more about life in the city, suburbs, and country, but they use different materials that reflect their proficiency levels. In Level I, students could look at two pictures accompanying a target-language magazine article: one of a city and the other of a rural village. They would generate lists of what they see, mark these observations as positive or negative features in their opinion, and create an argument for living in one place or the other. In Level II, students could read the article from the same magazine using pre-reading skimming/scanning and close reading questions provided by the teacher. In Level III, students could read an article about urban decay in a target-language country. They would also use pre-reading skimming/scanning and close reading questions provided by the teacher, and then outline a city plan for improving conditions.)
    • How do you check that students at each level are challenged when they work together? (For example, can beginners keep up with the task? Are advanced students acting more as tutors, or are they also learning?)
    • What activities can groups at one level do on their own while you work with groups at another level? (If you are working with more than two levels, describe what each level will be doing.)


Submit your thematic unit plan for a multilevel class as an assignment.

Put It Into Practice: Activity B

In this section, you will apply what you have learned to your own teaching. The following activities are designed to assist you in developing resources for working with multilevel classes or with Individualized Education Programs for students with special needs. Choose one or both of the activities from the list below.

Activity B: Working From an Individualized Education Program

In this activity, you will explore ways of meeting student needs as prescribed in an Individualized Education Program (IEP). (For more information on the IEP, go to the Glossary or go to Resources to access a link to the U.S. Department of Education Guide to the Individualized Education Program.)

If you have an IEP or a similar district-specific form, you can elect to use it for the activity. You can work with either a completed form for a student in your class or a blank form on which you’ve checked off the series of accommodations that you would like to consider. If you do not have access to an IEP or district form, you can use the form developed by the Fairfax County Public Schools Department of Special Services. You can access the Fairfax County IEP (PDF, 75 K) form here.

Note the areas that are checked on your selected form and create a plan for how you would accommodate the student in a foreign language class. You may choose any grade and language level for the class. You can use the IEP Accommodation Plan (PDF, 54 K) form to record your ideas. Please note that the specific details of an IEP will vary from school to school.

Create your plan using the following questions to guide you:

  1. How flexible is the set-up in your classroom? Can students who need special seating or other classroom modifications be accommodated?
  1. How can you collaborate with the special education teachers to provide these accommodations? Are there ways that they could provide support for this student while in your language class? Are there ways you can work together to ensure that this student is progressing?
  1. How can you provide these accommodations in a way that does not draw undue attention to the student?
  1. How have you modified your assessment practices to accommodate the needs of this student?
  2. Do you have the same expectations of all students?


Submit your IEP accommodation plan as an assignment.

Action Research Project

The following four-step process will help you plan a small action research project to explore your questions about working with diverse learners, implement action plans for accommodating the needs of all of your students, and collect information to assess your instructional innovations. Before you begin this section, you can go to About Action Research for an introduction to the process of designing and conducting action research projects. If you are taking this workshop for credit, you will need to complete one action research project from any one of the eight workshop sessions as an assignment.

If you would like to focus on working with diverse learners for your action research project, use the following questions and examples to help frame your thinking and shape your action research project.

I. Thinking

  1. What issue concerning working with diverse learners do you want to describe, document, and investigate? For example, you could examine your students’ learning strategies, observe the diversity that exists in your classroom, or study how the concept of multiple intelligences may be applicable to your students. If you teach heritage language speakers, you might want to investigate their unique learning needs and how instruction can accommodate these students. This will be the focus of your action research project.
  1. Why is it important to you as a teacher to accommodate the needs of different kinds of learners? How have you accommodated different students’ needs in the past? How do you want to change that approach and why? What has been your experience with accommodating heritage language speakers? Students at different language levels? Special needs students? Are you satisfied with your approach to working with each of these types of learners? Why or why not?
  1. What is your research question concerning working with diverse learners? The research question will help you investigate your area of focus and understand it better. For example:
    • What are the unique learning styles that my students bring to the classroom? How do my students’ learning styles compare with my own learning style?
    • How can I differentiate instruction to ensure that all students’ learning needs are met? What will guide my instructional decisions, and how will I evaluate whether my differentiated approaches are effective?
    • What are the opinions of my heritage language speakers regarding their language class? What do they identify as their own learning needs? How could I begin to address or improve upon the way I address the needs that they report?
    • How do my special needs students with identified learning disabilities in their first language perform in my foreign language class? How are their achievements similar to or different from those of students without learning disabilities? (In other words, are there significant differences in learning outcomes? If so, how can these differences be described?)

II. Acting

  1. What is the action plan for carrying out your project? Depending on your action research question, the following are some questions you might ask yourself to help you develop an action plan:
    • How will I identify my students’ learning styles?
    • How will I differentiate instruction for my students, and how will I know if the instruction is effective?
    • How will I gather information on the diverse needs of different learners?
    • What accommodations will I make for special needs students, and what school resources might I use to inform my decision making?
    • How can I better understand the diversity of my classroom?
  1. What information will you need to collect to answer your research question and assess your project? For example, you could take field notes, ask a colleague to observe your class and look for particular aspects relevant to your study, distribute student questionnaires and self-assessments, or gather and analyze student work samples. You should have at least two sources of information.
  1. How much time will you allot for your action plan? That is, when and for how long do you plan to collect information before you’re ready to begin analyzing it? Develop a timeline for implementing your action plan.

III. Reflecting

  1. After collecting your information, how will you analyze it? That is, how will you organize and review the information you have collected to understand it better and help you answer your research question? For example, will you use responses to a questionnaire, such as the Multiple Intelligences Survey? Will you compare performance data that is based on your instructional intervention? Will you review observations of critical incidents that took place during your study? Will you gather students’ opinions using pre- and post-activity questionnaires to assess how your instruction met their needs?
  1. How will you display the information so that it can be shared with others? For example, you can use charts, graphs, and/or tables. The goal is to organize your data in a way that presents a clear description of what you investigated.

IV. Rethinking

Note: The final step of the action research project is to reevaluate your teaching practice based on your research data. Because it takes time to complete an action research project, it may not be possible to do this step during the workshop. However, if you are taking this workshop for credit, you will need to complete one action research project during or after the course of the workshop to submit as an assignment.

  1. Based on what you learned through your data analysis, how will you rethink your teaching practice? What changes will you make to your lessons the next time you plan to address the needs of a diverse group of learners? If you had to research the needs of diverse learners in your classroom again, what changes would you make to your action research plan?


If you are taking the workshop for graduate credit, submit your completed action research project on any one of the eight session topics.

Reflect on Your Learning

In this session, you have been introduced to a range of issues that contribute to the diversity of students in our foreign language classes, and you have thought about strategies for meeting the needs of these diverse students. You will now write a one- to two-page summary of what you have learned and how you plan to apply it in your classroom. Review the notes you have taken during this session, as well as your answers to the Reflect on Your Experience questions. Use the questions below to guide your writing.

  1. How would you now define diversity as it’s reflected in your classroom?
  1. What are some key strategies for teaching multilevel classes?
  1. What strategies would you use to accommodate heritage speakers if they were in the minority in your class? What strategies would you use to accommodate non-heritage speakers if they were in the minority? What strategies would you use if you had students learning a third language?
  1. If you were faced with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that you had no experience accommodating, how might you research the issues? Who might you turn to in your school for help? What questions would you ask?
  1. When might you steer instruction toward a particular learning style or intelligence to accommodate one student or a small group of students? When might you encourage a student to approach a task using a learning style that is different from his or her typical learning style?


Submit your summary as an assignment.