Differentiated Instruction and Critical Thinking



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25. Incorporate all those vocabulary acquisition strategies you learned years ago as well as the ones that see today. You can’t have too many vocabulary building ideas! Seriously, we all should be vocabulary guru’s no matter what subject we teach.

  • ELL’s need Authentic Talk -- Is this authentic?
  • What is Ben doing?
  • Ben is holding a picture of a whale in the ocean.
  • Why is Ben holding a picture of a whale in the ocean?
  • Ben is holding a picture of a whale in the ocean because he is interested in protecting whales in the ocean.
  • Why is Ben interested in protecting whales in the ocean?
  • Ben is interested in protecting whales in the ocean because he is afraid they will become extinct.
  • What does the word, “extinct” mean?
  • “Extinct” means there are no more animals of that kind on our planet.
  • Is this Conversation Authentic?
  • Where can I buy soccer cleats? Mine are too old. I can’t turn fast in them. I’m the “sweep” this weekend.
  • Wow, I hate playing sweep. I’m a mid-fielder.
  • I can’t play mid-field very well. It’s too tiring. You have to be everywhere.
  • Yeah, but you can get the other team off sides.
  • Sometimes, but I don’t think about that a lot. So, ‘the cleats?
  • Oh yeah. Over at Fair Oaks Mall, there’s a sports store near the soft pretzel shop. Who are you playing? My twin sister plays goalie for a team. They might be playing you.
  • Avoid Painting All ELL Students with Same, Broad Brush Stroke!
  • Just like regular education students, all ELL students are not at the same point of development in language.
  • Some ELL students can respond to*:
  • “Show me…,” “Label the….,” “Circle the…,” “Where is…,” “Who has….,” and yes-no questions.
  • After a year or three, most ELL students can respond to:
  • “Why…,” “How…,” “Explain…,” “What would happen if…,” “Why do you think…” and “Decide if….”
  • Successful teachers respond strategically to this variance in ELL students, including those ELL students whose performance is outside these ranges.
  • Metaphorical and Critical Thinking is Universal!
  • At every stage of language acquisition, all of humanity thinks metaphorically. Hispanic, Greek, French, Phillippino, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, American, Egyptian, Iraqi, Italian, and Norwegian people think metaphorically. To not include metaphors, analogies, pattern recognition, and critical thinking in ELL students’ learning experiences due to language struggles is like assuming they don’t know how to feed themselves because they don’t eat the same food as we do. It’s pompous, and it denies ELL students their basic instruction. We can’t save advanced thinking only for advance language proficiency students.
  • Bilinguals tend to outperform monolinguals on some tests of language and nonverbal intelligence, including the ability to think abstractly about language, or meta-linguistic awareness, and one kind of creativity known as divergent thinking. Other studies have shown that bilinguals are better at executive control, or the ability to solve problems that require us to ignore irrelevant information and to focus on what is important. They also have superior working memories, that is, a better ability to keep information in mind while solving a problem.
  • -- James Crawford and Stephen Krashen, English Learners in American Classrooms: 101 Questions, 101 Answers (Scholastic, 2007, p. 31)

We only remember concepts that we can understand. So, teach subject content to ELL students in their native language whenever possible (Crawford and Krashen, 2007). As students become proficient in the specific content, place them in “sheltered instruction” experiences in which we focus predominantly on that content, but we weave in English as much as possible without diluting full content mastery.

  • Sheltered Instruction

“The goal in the minds of both students and the teacher is mastering the subject matter, not particular rules of grammar or vocabulary. In this way, students absorb academic English naturally and incidentally, while they are learning useful knowledge. If students are tested, they are tested on subject matter, not language.” (p. 24)

  • Sheltered Instruction

For Translations if your District Doesn’t have Translation Staff: Translation Web sites. Look also for associations of language translators. Use the student’s family members. Contact the Embassy or Consulate in Washington, D.C. or local to you Contact a bank or investment firm in your area that does a lot of international financing.

Use local associations of individuals from the specific culture in question. They often have liaisons with the larger community and can contact their membership to find someone who can help with translations. Use translation scanners -- often pocket-sized, that can translate almost any language into English and back again.

  • References, Research, and More Ideas
  • Cary, Stephen. Working with English Language Learners: Answers to Teachers’ Top Ten Questions, 2nd edition, Heinemann, 2007
  • Coggins, Debra; Kravin, Drew; Coates, Grace Davila; Carroll, Maria Dreux. English Language Learners in the Mathematics Classroom, Corwin Press, 2007
  • Crawford, James; Krashen, Stephen. English Learners in American Classrooms: 101 Questions, 101 Answers, Scholastic, 2007
  • Feldmand, Jerome A. From Molecule to Metaphor, MIT Press, 2008
  • Flynn, Kathleen M., Hill, Jane D. Classroom Instruction that Works with English Language Learners, ASCD, 2006
  • Wormeli, Rick. Metaphors & Analogies: Power Tools for Teaching any Subject, Stenhouse Publishers, 2009


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