"You talk as if a god had made the Machine.. Men made it, do not forget that. Great men, but men. The Machine is much, but it is not everything. I see something like you in this plate, but I do not see you. I hear something like you through this telephone, but I do not hear you. That is why I want you to come. Pay me a visit, so that we can meet face to face, and talk about the hopes that are in my mind."The machine stops - 1909 - Forster

Tuesday, November 20, 2018


Needs analysis - Starting Point

We strongly believe that giving differentiated instructions and using different strategies in class is the only approach which makes sense. What once was easy and natural, that is making all students work  on the same task at the same time, becomes now really hard. After some years of flipping , we realized we needed a more structured way to work both in the individual and in the group learning space. That's why we decided to create  an organized path through concepts and thematic areas , in such a way avoiding teaching ( or trying to teach ) everything to everyone , the ultimate goal being helping students personalize their learning.

What is the ideal situation in an esl class?

"Collaborative Personalization" could be the anwer.
Students should have the possibility to work at their own space, accordingo to their needs and abilities, but, at the same time, the entire process must be collaborative , as learning a language is essentially learning how to use that language, how to communicate and it can’t take place in isolation. So it’s ok having  students working at their own pace, but they need to be together, to work together as well, and assisted by the teacher. 

What is the big challenge?

To create a learning environment where every student has the opportunity to learn according to their skills and abilities while interacting with each other at the same time

What do students need?

  • More space to learn more content, to widen the syllabus
  • More time and support to understand and learn the basic concepts, the key elements of the course


   So we have to be flexible, to be ready to adapt, to change, to pause, rewind and reflect.
At the beginning we were afraid we would get an out of control class but this isn’t happening as the situation where everyone works at their level is NATURAL, while it is completely UNNATURAL a situation where all the students are on the same topic trying to learn the same things in the same amount of time .

The first question we had to find an answer to was:   

1) What does differentiation mean for us?

Basically it is finding strategies so that

  •  Students have always the feeling they are in the right place at the right moment
  •  Everyone can learn at their own pace
  •  Minimum standards are assured, and never lowered
  • The group learning space is productive for everyone and it becomes the starting point towards autonomy

 Then we had to focus on a second question:

2) How can we differentiate in the individual learning space? How can we help students at home?

Our solution, which is still a work in progress, was to create a platform , a wiki, that students can access at home and where the content is divided into levels.
Let’s call it a metastrategy, a sort of frame.

This is what we did, step by step.

First we chose the key elements in our syllabus, we can call them “the essentials”, that is vocabulary related to descriptions  ( for example , physical descriptions or daily routines ) or to narrations ( biographies, stories..) 

Second, we divided the content into three different levels ( both for complexity and number of items )

some examples


Third, we made the videos, one for each level ,  we wrote the texts and we uploaded the downloadable files . This material varies both for complexity and length.
This way students have an example of the expected outcome for each level.

Fourth, we invented names and logos .

As you can see we have a basic level, survival level, next half-way level and then  an expert level.
What is most important is that students are not labelled or sorted into categories, it is the other way round, it is the syllabus , or part of it, which has been tiered, divided into steps  
Students can choose the level they want to work on and here we have “CHOICE”, the magic word.
Thay are not stuck to the same level forever, of course
The results have been really encouraging so far.

Finally we published everything on a wiki.

I'm going to write a new post soon and I'll try and explain how everything works and how students are evaluated.  

* I have the pleasure to work with a dear friend of mine ( who is also a colleague ), Daniela Becchio, and this is the result of our combined efforts 
** The logos were created by a talented, young illustrator, Jack Macagno

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