Teaching Multiple Levels

As a #deptof1, I teach high school Spanish 1, 2, 3, 4, and Heritage Spanish 1 & 2. People tend to gasp in horror when I say that, but truth-be-told I love that my tiny school offers so many pathways and levels for students, and there isn’t a class on that list that I’d be happy to give up. (And also I started out teaching elementary where I had 24 classes across 6 different grade levels sooooo it’s all relative.)

That’s not to say that it isn’t a lot of work to have multiple preps a day. We are on a 4-blocks per day semester schedule, so I only have 3 of those 6 classes per semester, but it can be overwhelming to teach a different level every period. So here is the advice I wish I had when I increased from one prep a day to three…

Build from the base

Use the same topic and even resource(s) that you teach to all levels at the same time. Start with a base that is comprehensible to your lowest level, and then build from that base for your other levels. I like to choose a highly comprehensible novel that has deep themes and topics, like Felipe Alou by Carol Gaab or Escape Cubano by Mira Canion. For example, my L2 learners in Spanish 2 and my Heritage learners in Heritage Spanish 1 both read Felipe Alou. With my Spanish 2 students I use a lot of the activities in the Teacher’s Guide and I focus a lot on going slow with the book itself and ensuring that students comprehend the text. With my Heritage learners I pull in lots of authentic resources related to baseball and the Dominican Republic, and we use the book as a way to draw comparisons to other resources that provide them more of a challenge to meet their level. At the end of the unit, we ALL visit our minor league baseball team’s English class and my Heritage learners shine as the most fluent bilinguals of the groups while all kids and players share, learn, and use their language skills.

Not into novels? Try teaching seasonal topics like Día de los Muertos or El Sorteo de Navidad to multiple levels at once. Again I’d encourage you to find an anchor resource, such as a comprehensible reading or video. Or how about a MovieTalk? Using the same video you can focus on changing your own language to narrate and shift expectations on how students interact with the video depending on level! I really like The Present and The Smoke Seller.

Create a cycle

But wait…if you’re teaching the “same thing” to every level…what happens when those Level 1s become Level 2s?! This is the part where some long-term planning up front is required – but well worth the outcome. You need to get on a unit cycle that works for you. At my school I am lucky to get students in back-to-back semesters, so much of my cycling is seasonal: I always teach about Día de los Muertos in the fall, and I always teach about quinceañeras in the spring. Then obviously I may tweak things for my Spanish 3-4. I’ve heard of other teachers doing a 3-year cycle of topics.

Grow over time

I see a disturbing trend when it comes to teachers that are overwhelmed. In the name of constantly trying to improve and grow, we often hear big ideas and want to implement them right away – starting from scratch. However, quality instruction and curriculum takes time to develop, and you can’t actually grow if you are constantly starting over. This is true no matter what level you teach, but particularly when teaching multiple levels it’s important to not try and change too many things at once. That doesn’t mean that you need to keep units that aren’t serving your students (lookin’ at you isolated grammar topics), but try to consider how you can make an existing unit better before you start over. That unit where I teach Felipe Alou certainly didn’t start out culminating with a beautiful bilingual field trip, but every year I’ve added more connections and have made it better for all of my levels.

I hope you find this advice helpful for teaching multiple levels at once. What other tips might you add? What questions do you have? Share in the comments or contact me on Twitter @MaestraOTM!


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