Differentiating Instruction for Young English Language Learners in the Content Areas

Differentiating Instruction for Young English Language Learners in the Content Areas

Kristen M. Lindahl
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3955-1.ch005
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This chapter explores the practice of differentiating instruction for young English Language Learners (ELLs) in the academic content areas. While ELLs are the most rapidly growing demographic in US K-12 public schools, they are also the most diverse, and will thus benefit from dynamic instruction that meets their needs to provide challenge, success, and fit. Based upon earlier applications of differentiated instruction (such as those in Tomlinson, 1999), this chapter proffers four examples of differentiated activities for young ELLs in math, science, social studies, and language arts. It then extends traditional implementation of differentiated instruction to include students' funds of knowledge and their linguistic repertoire, thereby providing teachers of young ELLs more holistic means to extend student engagement with the content and the type of language favored in academic settings.
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Defining “Differentiated Instruction”

Both discord and agreement exist in defining differentiated instruction (used synonymously here with the term “differentiation” and abbreviated hereafter as DI), making it a somewhat nebulous construct to characterize. The discord exists primarily in identifying whether DI is a pedagogical philosophy, or more of an instructional methodology. In this case, methodology is defined a system of methods, principles, and rules for regulating teaching practices, while a philosophy deals more with the conceptualization of basic principles underlying DI.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Assessment: The gathering of information for purposes of making instructional decisions, and grading defined as the provision of high quality feedback, which is at times operationalized into symbolic numbers or letters.

Tiered Activity: A differentiated activity that has been designed on different levels of readiness in order to address learners’ background experiences and entry points into academic content material.

RAFT: A perspective writing assignment that challenges students to assume different roles (R), writing for different audiences (A), in different formats (F), about different topics (T).

Motivation: The process whereby goal-directed activity can be instigated and sustained in classrooms.

Flow: A state of intense engagement in an academic task such that students fail to notice the passing of time or even fatigue.

Readiness: A student’s entry point relative to a particular understanding or skill.

Learner Profile: The ways in which a student prefers to think, participate, and organize information.

Funds of Knowledge: The historically accumulated and culturally developed bodies of knowledge and skills essential for household or individual functioning and well-being.

Cubing: A differentiated activity that challenges learners with six different activities, and learners choose the activity they will do by rolling a die or game cube.

Differentiated Instruction: A proactive, principled response to learner diversity wherein educators provide varied routes for students to access educational content, processes, and products based upon students’ learning readiness, interests, and profiles.

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