I’ve been meaning to update you on the work going on with my mixed level class. Some of you have asked for more specifics about our strategies for meeting the needs of the Novice-High/Intermediate-Low students (3rd year) and the Novice-Low students (1st year).

I created some structures for our weekly work after talking with my principal, other OWL teachers, my guru (Darcy), and of course, the students. The system is far from perfect, but I’ll share what we are doing at this point along with some of the though processes.

It seemed clear that the 7 beginners needed time separated from the 12 returning students (and vice versa) for at least these first two quarters. The logistics for doing that and maintaining the target language was what stumped me.

My principal found some empty spaces during that time in neighboring classrooms so that noise and distraction would be less of an issue. This was huge, because I found the two circles in my classroom was difficult.

So, I had the space, but couldn’t be in both spaces at once. I began to think about our “Teacher for the Day” project that we’ve done every year, and how most students are able to run the OWL circle well. My initial thought was to take that concept and to rotate my returning students through as teachers for the day with the beginners, while I would focus my efforts with the advanced group.

When I shared this idea with my returning students (after their famous strike), they pointed out that the new students needed me more. What they really said was that they’d heard the new students complaining about student leaders (I had been testing this out in short activities) and saying that they preferred me. I realized that it was because my returning students knew how to run circles for their peers, but not for novice lows.

Then, one of my most outspoken complainers, said in Spanish, why don’t you let us lead our ourselves?

That’s how the plan was born.

My 12 returning students would rotate as leaders for their group twice a week while I would do a novice-low circle with the beginners. They signed-up for dates from now until January in pairs and began planning. I felt that things needed to be more structured than normal since I wouldn’t be able to help with the guiding in the moment.

Here is what we put together for two days a week (out of the four days we meet): 15 minutes together, 30 minutes separated during which the returning students do 3 things. 10 minutes to close as a group.

The last week went well. One group showed some ice bucket challenge videos (on silent) and talked about the challenges. I popped in a couple of times and provided some vocabulary that the circle needed (to dump was one I remember). Then the next leaders extended this topic and talked about donations and ALS, pointing out that the first day had been more about the challenge and not about the WHY. Again, I provided some vocabulary (to donate, to feel), but the topic came from them, the visuals, and the prompts as well as the responsibility to keep their classmates talking.

While that was going on, I was doing a basic circle with the 7 new students. You won’t believe how much vocabulary they learned in those 2 days when I was able to just focus on words. I’ll post a picture of their list later.

That leaves two other days per week…

One of those days I lead the advanced group while the beginners do Independent work on computers (The computer work is my LEAST favorite part of the set-up, but hopefully, soon they may be able to do work that is more interactive).

I did really enjoy that time with the advanced group. We just fly, talking without having to worry about the newbies ‘comprehension or comfort level. The last two days were a little like our own Spanish advisory; talking about issues that are important to them and I push them to extend their speaking.

Finally, the fourth day, we are all together. I plan activities that are for community building and allow students to practice the vocabulary brought up in their separate groups. We played a vocabulary game called Fish Bowl last week. This is easy to differentiate because new students can stick with charades while returning students have to describe words (like Taboo).

There you have it. It’s not ideal. But, it’s what we’ve come up with for now. We’ve only had a couple of weeks to try it out and after another month we will re-evaluate our systems.

I could also share about how we are differentiated with 4 Novice-Lows in a class of 18 Novice-Mids. Inclusion has been working well.  What ideas do you have? How have you differentiated within the OWL classroom?

2 thoughts on “Update

  1. Ashley, thanks for the post! I’m teaching a class that meets once a week, and has 25 students. 17 students are NL and the others are NM+. The class is supposed to be Spanish 3 (usually aiming for NH). None have experienced OWL or the circle before. Class is 3 hours long. I’m currently wrestling with the best way to work with this class. If you or any of your followers have ideas, I’d love them! What I enjoyed reading about is how the OWL culture is already a set expectation with your kiddos and they understand it well enough that they can run their own activities/circles/etc. Awesome work!


  2. My inclination would be to run an OWL circle at the Novice-Low level and to encourage the 8 NM+ students to be leaders. I would also encourage them to respond with combinations of vocabulary words and even sentences. Since the OWL culture is new, I don’t think the stronger students will feel bored with this and I believe you’ll find opportunities for them to extend their speaking. You can also differentiate writing prompts for them so that they are doing more on a given topic (describing new vocabulary in Spanish, for example, while the new students draw). After a few weeks, you may be able to do more strategic grouping, but since OWL is new for all of them, I would do a lot together at first.


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